Hazardous Materials (Hazmat) Incidents – Notable


Hazardous Materials (Hazmat) Incidents are a class of industrial disasters are a unique post-industrial age creation of man. Hazardous materials disasters have killed untold thousands of people since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Many were avoidable, and needless disasters caused by callous disregard for human safety in an unending quest for money. Others were unforeseen and accidental.

Some of the most common spills involve tanker trucks and railroad tankers containing gasoline, chlorine, acid, or other industrial chemicals. Many spills occur during the transportation of hazardous materials. For example, in 2012, spills from 12,995 highway and 665 railroad accidents resulted in 11 deaths, 160 injuries, and damages exceeding more than $73 million.

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Table: Notable Hazardous Materials (Hazmat) Incidents

Date(s) Location Event – Description
1932-1968 Kumamoto prefecture, Japan Minamata Disease, Japan
From 1932 to 1968, Japanese citizens ingested fish and shellfish contaminated by methylmercury (MeHg) discharged in waste water from a Japanese chemical plant (Chisso Co. Ltd.). A neurological syndrome caused by mercury poisoning is now known as “Minamata Disease.” For the past 36 years, of the 2252 patients who have been officially recognized as having M. d., 1043 have died.
1942 Love Canal, New York, US Love Canal, Niagara Falls, New York, US
In 1942, the property was used by Hooker Electrochemical (Hooker Chemicals and Plastics) for disposal of over 21,000 tons of various chemical wastes, including pesticides and dioxin. Afterwards, the area near the covered landfill was extensively developed, including the construction of an elementary school and many homes.Complaints about odors and residues were first reported at the site during the 1960’s, and increased in the 1970’s as the water level rose, bringing contaminated ground water to the surface.  Studies indicated that numerous toxic chemicals migrated into surrounding areas.  Runoff drained into the Niagara River, contaminating the river sediment.  Dioxin and other contaminants migrated from the landfill to the existing sewers, which drained into nearby creeks.Approximately 950 families were evacuated from a 10-square-block area surrounding the landfill.  The contamination at the site ultimately led to the passage of Federal Superfund legislation.
1947 Texas City, Texas, US Texas City Disaster, Texas, US
The Texas City disaster of April 16, 1947 was the deadliest industrial accident in U.S. history, and one of the largest non-nuclear explosions. Originating with a mid-morning fire on board the French-registered vessel SS Grandcamp (docked in the Port of Texas City), its cargo of approximately 2,300 tons (approximately 2,100 metric tons) of ammonium nitrate detonated, with the initial blast and subsequent chain-reaction of further fires and explosions in other ships and nearby oil-storage facilities killing at least 581 people.About 1,000 homes and businesses were either heavily damaged or destroyed in the explosion, which caused a 15-foot-high tidal wave, killed 28 firemen and destroyed all the town’s firefighting equipment. Contemporary accounts say the blast shattered windows 40 miles away in Houston and was felt 250 miles away in Louisiana.
1952 London, United Kingdom The Great Smog, London
The 1952 London smog episode (also known as the Great Smog or Great Smoke) was a severe air-pollution event that affected London during December 1952. Government medical reports in the following weeks estimated that up until 8 December 4,000 people had died prematurely and 100,000 more were made ill. More recent research suggests that the total number of fatalities was considerably greater, at about 12,000.
1961-1971 Vietnam Agent Orange Exposure
Agent Orange or Herbicide Orange (HO) is one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the British military during the Malayan Emergency and the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. The Vietnam Red Cross reported as many as 3 million Vietnamese people have been affected by Agent Orange, including at least 150,000 children born with birth defects. According to Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 people being killed or maimed, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.
1980s – Present Guiyu, in Guangdong Province, China E-waste in Guiyu, China
Guiyu, in Guangdong Province, China, is made up of four small villages. It is the location of what may be the largest electronic waste (e-waste) site on earth. Many of the primitive recycling operations in Guiyu are toxic and dangerous to workers’ health with 88% of children suffering from lead poisoning. Higher-than-average rates of miscarriage are also reported in the region.
1984 Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India Bhopal Disaster, India
In 1984, a Union Carbide India Limited Plant (majority owned by Union Carbide in partnership with the Indian government) leaked thousands of tons of methyl isocyanate gas. 3,787 people were confirmed dead by the Indian government. Others claim thousands more have since died because of illnesses related to disaster.
1986 Ukraine (former Soviet Union) Chernobyl Nuclear Accident, Ukraine
On April 26, 1986 an accident occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine. The accident caused more than 28 short-term deaths from radiation burns and exposure. Four thousand cases of thyroid cancer, including 15 thyroid cancer deaths, resulted, as of 2005, with several thousands more expected to develop among people who were children when the accident occurred. The accident resulted in the evacuation of about 360,000 people from contaminated regions of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia (115,000 in 1986 with subsequent relocation of 220,000 after 1990).
1989 Prince William Sound, Alaska, US Exxon Valdez, Alaska, US
On March 24, 1989, the massive oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. The ship was outbound from Port Valdez and carried 53 million gallons of crude oil; an estimated 11 million gallons spilled into the Gulf of Alaska.The harm caused by the spill was extensive. Tens of thousands of animals died, generations of fish and other marine life were compromised, the lives of residents were greatly disrupted, and the ongoing effects of this catastrophe continue today.
1991 Kuwait Kuwait Oil Fires, Kuwait
As Iraqi forces withdrew from Kuwait, they set fire to over 650 oil wells and damaged almost 75 more, which then spewed crude oil across the desert and into the Persian Gulf. The fires burned for ten months. When the last one was extinguished in November, about 300 lakes of oil remained, as well as a layer of soot and oil that fell out of the sky and mixed with sand and gravel to form ‘tarcrete’ across 5 percent of Kuwait’s landscape.
2010 Gulf Coast of Mexico Deepwater Horizon
On 20 April 2010, during the final phases of drilling the exploratory well, an eruption of a slushy combination of mud, methane gas, and water occurred. The gas component of the slushy material quickly transitioned into a fully gaseous state and then ignited into a series of explosions. The accident on the platform claimed 11 lives and led to an 87-day underwater oil-gusher which spilled 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.


For comprehensive reports, visit the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration – Incident Statistics.