Proof in the Pics: Devastating Images of Eco-Disasters

Oil spills, mountaintop removal, waste dumping, deforestation, unsustainable farming, air pollution – all of these things have made scars upon the Earth, and dramatically impacted millions of lives. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, these sobering photographs of eco disasters from around the world should leave us all speechless. From Texaco’s oily waste pits in Ecuador to the unsettling radiation-contaminated abandoned city of Pripyat in Ukraine, these photos are testament to just how much damage we can do.

Texaco’s Oily Legacy: Ecuador

(images via: rini hartman)

Texaco hasn’t been in Ecuador since 1993, but its greasy imprint still remains in the form of shocking oil pollution in and around its former drilling sites in what was once pristine rainforest. After three decades of drilling and dumping waste oil into giant open pits, Texaco – which was bought by Chevron in 2001 – allegedly botched a half-hearted cleanup attempt, according to a lawsuit filed against the company. Nearby residents, including indigenous peoples, blame the oil waste for a range of health ills. Texaco’s behavior set a precedent – hundreds of wells owned by other companies continue to pump toxic waste into the rainforests every day.

TVA Coal Ash Spill: Tennessee

(images via:, duke university)

It’s America’s worst man-made environmental disaster – exceeding even the far more famous Exxon-Valdez oil spill. The December 2008 TVA coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee sent 5.4 million cubic yards of hazardous coal waste, which contains arsenic and potentially carcinogenic heavy metals, gushing into the Emory River and over homes and farmland. All of this occurred when a 50-foot-high, unregulated dam owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority burst under the weight of decades of accumulated coal ash.

Shrinking Aral Sea: Uzbekistan & Kazakhstan

(images via: wikimedia commons)

The images are absolutely mystifying: how did these gigantic tankers get out into the desert, and why? The abandoned ships for which the Aral Sea is so famous once floated on plenty of water, but that water steadily dried up ever since the rivers that fed it were diverted for Soviet irrigation projects in the 1960s. Once the fourth-largest inland body of salt water, the Aral Sea is now 10% of its former size, annihilating the region’s formerly prosperous fishing industry. The ecosystem was destroyed, and the plains that are left behind are covered in salt and toxic chemicals from weapons testing, pesticides, industrial projects and fertilizer runoff.

Air Pollution: Hong Kong

(images via: Alex Hofford)

Despite what Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department might say, the air is bad – really bad – and it’s harmful to the health of local residents. Current government regulations “permit 1,100 avoidable deaths per year,” according to Joanne Ooi, chief executive of the Clean Air Network.  While factories on the mainland are a big source of air pollution in Hong Kong, the area’s own factories, coal-burning power plants and transport play a large role as well.

Union-Carbide Industrial Spill: Bhopal, India

(images via: Greenpeace)

On December 3rd, 1984, over 500,000 people were poisoned by the release of extremely dangerous methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and other toxins at the Union-Carbide pesticide manufacturing plant in Bhopal, India. The immediate death toll is estimated to be as high as 10,000 while 25,000 have since died from gas-related diseases. In the aftermath of the disaster, bodies lay in the streets – including thousands of children, many of whom went unclaimed in the chaos. The plant, now owned by Dow Chemical Company, has never been cleaned up and continues to leak toxins into the groundwater of the region.

Mountaintop Removal: West Virginia

(images via:

Mountaintop removal mining involves a stunning series of destructive steps, all of which have a sobering effect on both the local ecosystem, the look of the landscape and the health of residents nearby. Forests are clear-cut, explosives blast up to 800 feet off the tops of the mountains, the soil is removed, coal scooped out and waste sent into valleys and streams. What results is a mess of apocalyptic proportions.

Pine Beetle Infestation: American West & Canada

(images via: west coast climate equity)

Anyone in North America who wants to see the effects of climate change first hand need look no further than the American West and British Columbia. Both areas have been severely effected by pine beetle infestation, killing vast swaths of healthy trees and making the land vulnerable to wildfires and mudslides. Pine beetles are projected to kill 80% of British Columbia’s lodgepole pine within 10 years. Scientists believe that drier and warmer weather has allowed pine beetle infestation to become an epidemic.

Trash-Packed Citarum River: Indonesia

(image via: earthfirst)

Is the Citarum the dirtiest river in the world? It certainly seems that way from photos of waters so packed with trash, boaters can barely navigate through it. In fact, it’s difficult to even tell that there’s water under all the debris. Not only is there no trash collection in the area, but 500 factories line the river banks, spewing chemical waste into the water.

Exxon-Valdez Spill: Alaska

(images via: wikimedia commons)

No one is likely to forget the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, which perhaps remains the most well known environmental disaster in America’s history. 11 million gallons of crude oil fouled the beautiful Prince William Sound in Alaska on March 23rd, 1989 after the Exxon-Valdez tanker crashed into icebergs in a shipping lane as the captain napped. It had a devastating impact on the Sound’s birds, whales, salmon, otters, bald eagles and other wildlife, and oil can still be found on the beaches over two decades later.

The Dust Bowl: Great Plains of America

(images via:

Along with the Homestead Act, an unusually wet period lured settlers out into the Great Plains of America in the hopes that agriculture could be supported there. But it wasn’t long before the typical climate of the region returned, forcing farmers into unsustainable practices that increased soil erosion, and when a severe drought struck in 1934 the dusty soil began gathering into immense clouds that blanketed the earth and made day seem like night. 500,000 people were left homeless, and many died of dust pneumonia and malnutrition. By 1940, 2.5 million people left the Plains for more fertile lands.

Amazon Deforestation: Brazil

(images via: NASA, wikimedia commons)

The Amazon rainforest in Brazil has already lost over 232,000 square miles since 1970, and if deforestation continues at its current rate, 40% will be gone by 2030. The government allowed cattle ranchers to clear large areas of forest in an attempt to build up Brazil’s economy, and since the 1980s, loggers, miners and soy farmers have added to the problem.

Melting Sea Ice: Arctic Ocean

(images via: discovery)

The Arctic Ocean is losing sea ice at a dramatic rate, and satellite images from 2007 have scientists extremely concerned. Sea ice declined by a whopping 81,081 square miles per day during a two-week period in 2007 and unusually active, churning waters continue to exacerbate the problem. These images show the Beaufort Sea (top), a polar bear habitat, and the coast of Barrow, Alaska (bottom).

Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster: Ukraine

(images via: wikimedia commons, scienceblogs)

Pripyat, Ukraine might just be the world’s creepiest ghost town. This otherwise unremarkable Eastern European city was once home to Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant workers, but when a nuclear reactor at the plant exploded in 1986, it was abandoned and has stood as a bizarre, deteriorating monument to the disaster ever since. The accident directly killed 56 people, but up to 4,000 may have developed cancer from radiation exposure and it’s also implicated in the chromosomal aberrations and neural tube defects of countless children.

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