Hungary toxic sludge reaches Danube River: Top 10 environmental disasters worldwide

The toxic sludge now covering 15 square miles of Hungary and seeping into the Danube River is a serious environmental disaster whose severity and long-term consequences are still unclear. Will the release of the 35 million cubic feet of alumina refining waste become one of the Top 10 manmade environmental disasters of the past century?

10.Deepwater Horizon oil spill, 2010

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When a blowout preventer failed on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, it led to an oil spill that lasted until mid-July and wasn’t declared over until September. Almost 5 million barrels, or about 210,000,000 gallons, of oil are estimated to have been released into the Gulf – the largest accidental release of oil in history.

Baia Mare cyanide spill, 2000

When a dam that had been holding back water contaminated from gold mining in Baia Mare, Romania broke, it released millions of gallons of water laced with cyanide and other heavy metals. The contaminated water reached the waterways of Romania, Hungary, and Yugoslavia, including the Danube River, and although rapid response prevented any human deaths, it resulted in massive fish kills. Greenpeace Hungary Director Zsolt Szegfalvi said that the amount of toxic material that poured out of the containment pool on Monday is almost 10 times the amount of material that was released in Baia Mare. Although the area is once again safe, Mr. Szegfalvi said, traces of the chemicals released in 2000 can still be found in the area around Baia Mare today.

Gulf War oil spill, 1991

The Gulf War oil spill, when Saddam Hussein intentionally spilled oil into the Persian Gulf, resulted in anywhere from 240 million to 460 million gallons of crude oil poured into the Gulf. It remains the world’s largest oil spill today.

Exxon Valdez oil spill, 1989

The Exxon Valdez spill, which happened when an oil tanker ran aground off the coast of Alaska, is not one of the largest spills in history, but it is one of the worst in terms of environmental impact. Eleven million gallons of oil were spilled into Prince William Sound. It happened in a fragile area with an abundance of wildlife and unspoiled land that hasn’t fully recovered.

Chernobyl, 1986

More than 50 tons of radioactive material were released into the atmosphere over Ukraine when the nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power plant exploded. Ukrainian officials estimate that more than 4,000 died following the blast and 70,000 suffered from radiation illness. Nearby villages and an entire city are now abandoned.

Bhopal gas leak, 1984

When a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India released a cloud of toxic gas, it killed more than 3,000 people in days, poisoned hundreds of thousands in the years after the accident, and killed 15,000 total, according to the Indian government. It is the most deadly manmade environmental disaster in history.

Ixtoc blowout, 1979

In 1979, an underwater oil well blew out in the Gulf of Mexico near the Yucatán Peninsula. Oil gushed out for 10 months. Four months in, more than half of Texas’s 370-mile Gulf shoreline was covered in oil. In the end, 140 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf.

Love Canal, 1978

Residents of the Niagara Falls, N.Y. neighborhood, Love Canal, noticed strange odors and liquid seeping from the ground. Their children frequently got sick and there was an elevated rate of miscarriages and birth defects. In 1978, reporters discovered that the neighborhood was built on top of a chemical waste dump with 21,800 tons of chemical waste.

Minamata Bay mercury, ended in 1968

For more than 30 years, a Japanese company released water containing high levels of mercury into the bay around the Japanese city Minamata. The mercury seeped into the marine food chain, reaching residents through ingestion of local fish. More than 1,700 people have died from a neurological condition named after the company and city.

London's 'Great Smog,' 1952

In this January, 1953 file photo, merchants sell smog masks in London. (Newscom)

In Dec. 1952, a thick, acidic smog enveloped London, lasting for four days. The smog, which came from fumes from coal stoves, industry and gas-burning cars, caused the deaths of about 4,000 people in a month and more than 8,000 in later months for reasons related to the smog.