I’m going to level with you folks: This thing is going to get real dark real quick. Each of these end-of-the-year lists is supposed to start the same way, with “as we push onward into 2016, Planet Experts looks back at the stories we reported on and brings you the very best and worst of the year,” but worst doesn’t really cut these stories. These are the 10 grossest violations of health and human decency that we reported on this year and, frankly, humanity really outdid itself in 2015.
So be forewarned, graphic content is below. These are the 10 Grossest Environmental Stories of 2015:
Let’s break this story down. Duke Energy stores some 106 million tons of coal ash, a toxic byproduct of burning coal, in its home state of North Carolina. According to the EPA, the ponds where it stores much of this ash pose a severe health risk to any living thing nearby, so much so that breathing in the fumes is comparable to smoking one pack of cigarettes per day. One of these ponds, located near its Sutton coal plant, contaminated the local watershed for 1,600 days. (Not surprising, considering that a spill from a Duke pond in Eden into the Dan River made the river so toxic it became unsafe to physically touch.) When Duke, a company with a market cap of $50.5 billion, was fined $25.1 million for the contamination, Duke accused the state’s Department of Environmental and Natural Resources of “regulatory overreach.” That’s gross. Read More
The wastewater, or brine, created as a byproduct of oil and gas production is typically five to eight times saltier than seawater and contains such toxins as ammonium, chloride, heavy metals and radioactive material. You wouldn’t expect this to be the kind of stuff you’d want to spray on your city streets, but that’s exactly what’s happening in New York and Pennsylvania. You know why? Because it’s cheap. If fossil fuel companies didn’t give this crap away, they’d have to pay to dispose of it. So now you’ve got brine sitting on your roads that’s got 50 times more ammonium than the EPA considers safe and is also packed with iodide and bromide, chemicals that, when combined with chlorine and the organic metals found in rivers, become highly carcinogenic chemicals. Want to find out how much brine your state is spraying on your streets? Well, unfortunately, you can’t. Read More
There’s not much more to add to this headline. In March, the head of Nepal’s mountaineering association announced that so much human waste has built up on the world’s tallest mountain that climbers now risk contracting disease. Having become a tourist destination for the wealthy and woefully inexperienced, Everest is now covered in garbage that includes but is not limited to ropes, tents, beer cans, plastic and feces. There are also a fair amount of human bodies scattered around the mountain that the elevation and extreme conditions render almost impossible to safely retrieve. Read More
Sixty percent of black bass taken from North Carolina streams were found to have intersex characteristics – specifically, they’re growing eggs in their testicles. I’ll let you guess the reason why (and before you ask, no, it’s not something black bass just do on the reg). The prevailing theory is that a significant amount of endocrine-disrupting compounds have contaminated North Carolina’s water (e.g., hormones, industrial chemicals and pesticides) as a result of the permitted runoff of wastewater treatment plants and agricultural effluents. It’s had the same effect as pumping estrogen hormones into the rivers. The full story is even grosser. Read More
A report from UN University suggests that the planet created 41.8 million tonnes of electronic waste last year, 60 percent from kitchen, bathroom and laundry equipment alone. And yes, most of it comes from the U.S.A. “Worldwide, e-waste constitutes a valuable ‘urban mine’ – a large potential reservoir of recyclable materials,” said David Malone, UN under-secretary and rector of the Tokyo-based UNU. “At the same time, the hazardous content of e-waste constitutes a ‘toxic mine’ that must be managed with extreme care. There is a large portion of e-waste that is not being collected and treated in an environmentally sound manner.” The kicker? Up to 90 percent of this e-waste is illegally traded or dumped every year. Read More
5) We Can’t Stop Spilling Toxic Waste Into Our Water
Listing every instance of this would take far too long, so I’ll highlight two major incidents. Over a six month period, more than a million gallons of raw sewage spilled into the streets of Florida’s Miami-Dade County. This has precipitated some $1.6 billion in repairs to the county’s aging sewer system. Meanwhile, across the country, about six million gallons of sewage spilled into the Rio Grande after an equipment failure at the Southside Water Reclamation Plant in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Now that I think about it, I guess I have enough time to list a few more. In January, an oil pipeline was breached in Montana, spilling up to 50,400 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River. A few days later, a diesel spill in Lewisburg, West Virginia, left 12,000 people without access to drinking water. In May, oil from a faulty pipeline covered four miles of California’s coastline. In August, a Coca-Cola plant in Sri Lanka spilled diesel into the Kelani River, the primary drinking water source for millions of Sri Lankans. In the same month, a million gallons of toxic mine waste was spilled into Colorado’s Animas River.
You may be familiar with the BP oil spill that occurred five years ago. It spilled about 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and remains the largest ecological disaster in United States history (and the second-biggest oil spill in history after the intentional release of some 252-336 million gallons of oil during the 1991 Gulf War). Well, five years after the BP spill and the U.S. Coast Guard is still trying to clean the Gulf, which includes the removal of a 25,000-pound tar mat from East Grande Terre Island. Of course, BP neglected to mention this when it declared that the Gulf is returning to its “baseline condition” in March. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would go on to call that assessment “inappropriate as well as premature.” Read More
You may not know where Abidjan is and you may have no idea how much toxic waste was dumped on top of it, but I guarantee you this story will make your blood boil and your stomach churn. After a multinational oil trading firm illegally dumped its toxic waste in landfills throughout Abidjan, people started getting sick. Really sick. At least 17 died choking on the rotten fumes that nobody wanted to take credit for… Read More
Greenland’s ice sheet is turning black, soaking up the pollen and dust and exhaust blown by the wind. It’s also absorbing the soot spread by wild fires and other pollutants, and if this continues, Greenland’s ability to reflect light back into the atmosphere will diminish, increasing its solar absorption and accelerating ice melt and sea level rise. “The Arctic is warming up twice as fast as the Subarctic, and we think it may be due to the dark ice that absorbs the sun’s rays rather than reflecting them as white ice would,” said Jason Box of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland. Read More
Perhaps this story only makes number one because we can see it. It’s viscous, it’s vicious, it’s brutal and it’s grotesque. In November, the following video was uploaded to YouTube by animal rights nonprofit Compassion Over Killing (COK). The graphic footage shows numerous violations of both animal rights and food safety protocols as pigs are beaten and boiled alive, sometimes while visibly conscious. Sick and diseased pigs are dragged through the exact same process, sometimes suffering even worse treatment by the human handlers. These pigs, “covered in feces or pus-filled abscesses,” COK writes, are “slaughtered and processed for human consumption with a USDA inspection seal of approval.”
These violations were allegedly filmed inside Quality Pork Processors, a privately-held meat processing company that supplies Hormel with over 50 percent of its raw pork material. Read More