10 Largest Contaminant Releases in the United States

Contamination Assessment - Soil and Groundwater Pollution

Contaminants have plagued the world for decades at a time before people became aware as to what was going on. The effect of most contamination isn’t always noticeable right away, which tends to be how most new regulations and laws are devised. Here are the top 10 environmental contamination releases in the United States. Some have been resolved, while others are still fighting to make things as good or better than they were before in that area. 10. Leakage of the Summitville mine A sodium cyanide solution was used to extract gold in this mine in Colorado during the mid 80s. 73 acres of leach pads were in place, with no drainage for any of them. There was a permit issued to discharge extra water off of the leach pads, but only if the level of contaminants met regulations; they didn’t. Despite the high levels of cyanide in the water, it was still released into the Alamosa River. This distribution of contaminants killed aquatic life for 17 miles of the river. 9. Mercury in Indiana With the aid of 30 coal-burning power plants, Indiana’s waterways have become contaminated with high levels of mercury. The fish that tested high in mercury were way past a safe level of consumption for humans. 8. Derailment near the Sacramento River Just north of Dunsmuir, California, a train derailed in July of 1991. The derailment caused metam sodium to be spilled into the Sacramento River. 19,000 gallons of the toxin poured into the river, killing everything for a 38 mile stretch. Metam sodium is used as a fungicide, herbicide, and pesticide. The upper portion of the river still hasn’t fully recovered. 7. Contaminated feed in Michigan Instead of a nutritional supplement being added to animal feed, a fire retardant was added by mistake. The tainted feed was distributed to farmers all over Michigan and fed to livestock. Milk and meat were contaminated after cows ate the feed and many cattle became very ill. 6. Sludge spill in Martin County 306 million gallons of coal sludge made its way into the Tug Fork River in October of 2000. This occurred around midnight and by the time morning arrived, Wolf Creek was also filled with the coal waste. Hundreds of miles of the Big Sandy River became polluted, as well as other tributaries and the Ohio River. This contamination tainted the water supply for tens of thousands of individuals and ruined the homes of aquatic life all along these rivers. 5. Three Mile Island leak The reactor on Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania had a partial meltdown in March of 1979. Although the release of radioactive gas and water were rather small, the decontaminating of the site could only go so far. Eventually the site was declared unable to be cleaned any further. The concrete covering the buried reactor is still slowly deteriorating. 4. Chemical waste in Love Canal In the 1920s, a canal was dug near Niagara Falls to help provide water to a nearby community. However, the canal ended up going unfinished and was turned into a landfill instead. The decomposing garbage produced a liquid waste that seeped into the ground and began causing severe illnesses, miscarriages, and birth defects among people in the community known as Love Canal. 3. Use of DDT This wasn’t only a single incident. DDT was used as a pesticide for more than 20 years before the dangerous effects were known. Although they aren’t instant, the effects of DDT have been and most likely will be seen for many more decades to come. From causing cancer in humans to thinning the eggshells of wild birds, DDT has affected nearly every living thing it has come into contact with. 2. Smog blanket over Donora A blanket of smog formed over Donora, Pennsylvania as the cold air trapped the sulfur dioxide being produced by the mills in Donora. Within 4 days, the smog was so thick that people could no longer drive their cars or even see their hand right in front of their face. The zinc plant finally shut down to allow the fumes to subside. Regulations were put into place nearly 10 years later to prevent this event from ever happening again. 1. Deep sea drilling rig catches fire In April of 2010, a drilling rig caught fire near Louisiana. This fire burned for 36 hours straight and disappeared less than 5,000 feet of water. The oil slick released from this incident grew 3 times its size in a single day. The oil continued to leak out of the rig at a rate of 200,000 gallons each day. Have you heard of any additional issues that would fit in with these top 10 environmental contamination releases in the United States?