On April 20, 2010 an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig unleashed a torrent of oil from the Macondo well. More than 200 million gallons (750 million liters) of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico, fouling the shorelines of many Gulf Coast states. BP has resolved the criminal charges, but still faces fines. A trial to resolve the remaining civil litigation opened in New Orleans on Monday.
Accidents like Fukushima, Chernobyl and Deepwater Horizon have devastated local economies as farmland and fishing waters were destroyed or survivors were left too ill to work. In some cases, survivors have spent years fighting for compensation. DW takes a look at the worst environmental disasters of the past three decades and actions of the companies involved.
On December 3, 1984 a cloud of toxic gas escaped from a Union Carbide pesticide plant near the Indian city of Bhopal. At least 3,000 people died that night. In the years that followed, the death toll climbed to 20,000 as more people died from related illnesses. The company has paid $470 million (354 million euros) in compensation, but large sums were lost through corruption and mismanagement.
The worst nuclear accident in history occurred on April 26, 1986 at the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine. It is estimated that between 4,000 and 10,000 people died from exposure to radiation released when a reactor at the plant caught fire and showered Europe with radioactive particles. Survivors do receive compensation, but the World Health Organization says this has created a culture of dependency.
On March 24, 1989 the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ruptured after running aground on Bligh Reef, Alaska. 40,000 tons of crude oil spilled into Prince William Sound. Hundreds of thousands of birds and marine animals were killed. Herring and salmon populations collapsed. A US court awarded locals $5 billion (3.8 billion euros) in compensation, but Exxon appealed and instead paid out $500 million in 2009.
A dam at the Los Frailes lead-zinc mine broke on April 25, 1998, releasing about five million cubic meters of toxic sludge into the Guadiamar River, Spain. The European Commission says Swedish mining company Boliden is responsible, but Boliden has rejected liability, arguing defects in the construction of the dam. More than a decade later, Spain is still trying to sue Boliden for damages.
On October 4, 2010, the retaining wall of a waste reservoir at an aluminum plant in western Hungary collapsed, releasing more than one million cubic meters of highly alkaline red sludge. Ten people were killed. The toxic sludge damaged homes, displaced residents and seeped into local waterways. MAL Hungarian Aluminum was fined 500 million euros ($660 million) for damaging the environment.
More than 200 people were killed on December 25, 2003, when an explosion at a natural gas field in southwest China released toxic fumes into the air. Thousands were treated for gas poisoning and skin burns. Workers at the plant were charged with negligence. Mining accidents are common in China, where safety rules are often ignored. In 2011, accidents claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 coal miners.
An earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011. Radioactive particles have since been discovered in local farmland and waterways. Plant operator Tepco has admitted it was insufficiently prepared for the earthquake. The cost of the Fukushima disaster has been estimated at more than 75 billion euros ($100 billion).
A Dutch court ordered Shell Nigeria to compensate a farmer after oil leaking from their pipelines damaged his land. But the court dismissed four other claims filed against the Dutch parent company. Shell hailed the judgment as a victory, while environmentalists said the case opened new avenues for holding multinational companies liable for environmental damage.
DW looks at some of the worst environmental disasters in history including Fukushima, Chernobyl, Bhopal and Deepwater Horizon.