WORLD EVENTS THAT KILLED & DESTROYED THE HEALTH OF MANY

Much as we can make efforts consistently to maintain good health, sometimes occurrences beyond our control could mar such efforts.

Tragic events sometimes occur, some, leading to the death of many, others plaguing the lives of its victims with health challenges many years after. Your Health Attitude has researched some world events that killed & destroyed the health of many.

 

BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY  

Also referred to as the Bhopal disaster, the Bhopal gas tragedy is one of the largest extinctions in history caused by human error.

The Bhopal disaster was an intense toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leak, that permeated the neighborhood of Bhopal inside the city of Mumbai, India.

On the night of December 2, 1984, an accident at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, led to the release of about 40 tons of the highly toxic gas; methyl isocyanate, as well as a number of other poisonous gases.

The pesticide plant was surrounded by shanty towns, leading to more than 500,000 people being exposed to the deadly gas cloud that night. The gases stayed low to the ground, causing victims throats and eyes to burn, inducing nausea, and many deaths.

Estimates of the death toll vary from as few as 3,787 to as many as 16,000, but government figures now refer to an estimate of 15,000 killed over the years. A government affidavit in 2006 stated that the leak caused 558,125 injuries, including 38,478 temporary partial injuries and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries.

The Indian government and local activists argue that slack management and deferred maintenance on the part of the Union Carbide Corporation led to this great disaster.

The leakage actually happened because water entered the tank containing Methyl isocyanate. This caused a chemical reaction which resulted in the buildup of much carbon dioxide, among other things. The resulting reaction increased the temperature inside the tank to reach over 200 °C (392 °F). The pressure was more than the tank was built to withstand.

The tank had valves to control the pressure. These were triggered in an emergency, which reduced the pressure. As a result, large amounts of toxic gases were released into the environment.

Due to the rustiness of the pipes, the reaction was faster. All the contents of the tank were released within a period of about two hours.

Over the years, many of those who were exposed to the gas have given birth to physically and mentally disabled children. For decades, survivors have been fighting to have the site cleaned. The terrain where the plant stands is still contaminated with mercury and other carcinogenic substances. Dow Chemical who owns Union Carbide refuses to decontaminate the soil. Greenpeace has estimated that decontamination would only cost around 30 million USD.

INFLUENZA PANDEMIC OF 1918-19 ( SPANISH FLU )

As the World War I which claimed an estimated 16 million lives was winding down, something erupted across the globe that seemed as benign as the common cold. The Influenza of that season, however, was far more than just a cold.

The influenza infected approximately about 500 million people around the world, and resulted in the deaths of 50 to 100 million (three to five percent of the world’s population). Within months, it had killed more people than any other illness in recorded history.

The plague emerged in two phases. In late spring of 1918, the first phase, known as the “three-day fever,” appeared without warning. Few deaths were reported. Victims recovered after a few days. When the disease surfaced again that fall, it was far more severe. Scientists, doctors, and health officials could not identify this disease which was striking so fast and so viciously, eluding treatment and defying control. Some victims died within hours of their first symptoms. Others succumbed after a few days; their lungs filled with fluid and they suffocated to death.

Young adults, usually unaffected by these types of infectious diseases, were among the hardest hit groups along with the elderly and young children. The flu afflicted over 28 percent of the U.S. population.  An estimated 675,000 Americans died of influenza during the pandemic, ten times as many as in the world war. In one year, the average life expectancy in the United States dropped by 12 years.

The influenza pandemic went across the globe. It spread following the path of its human carriers, along trade routes and shipping lines. Outbreaks swept through North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Brazil and the south pacific. In India the mortality rate was extremely high at around 50 deaths from influenza per 1000 people.

Influenza is caused by a virus that is transmitted from person to person through airborne respiratory secretions. An outbreak can occur if a new strain of influenza virus emerges against which the population has no immunity.

When an infected person sneezes or coughs, more than half a million virus particles can be spread to those close by. The Great war, with its mass movement of men in armies and aboard ships, probably aided in its rapid diffusion and attack.

Complicating matters was the fact that World War I had left parts of America with a shortage of physicians and other health workers. And of the available medical personnel in the U.S., many came down with the flu themselves.

Officials in some communities imposed quarantines, ordered citizens to wear masks and shut down public places, including schools, churches and theaters. People were advised to avoid shaking hands and to stay indoors, libraries put a halt on lending books and regulations were passed banning spitting.

By the summer of 1919, the flu pandemic came to an end, as those that were infected either died or developed immunity.

 

HALIFAX EXPLOSION

The port city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada was devastated on 6 December 1917 when two ships collided in the city’s harbour. One of them a munitions ship loaded with explosives bound for the battlefields of the First World War.

What followed was one of the largest human-made explosions prior to the detonation of the first atomic bombs in 1945. The north end of Halifax was wiped out by the blast and subsequent tsunami. Nearly 2,000 people died, another 9,000 were maimed or blinded, and more than 25,000 were left without adequate shelter.

What really happened?

Shortly before 9:00 am that day, the Imo, a Norwegian steamship carrying supplies for the Belgian Relief Commission headed out of Halifax Harbour and found itself on a collision course with the French steamship Mont-Blanc. Unbeknownst to others in the harbour, the Mont-Blanc was carrying 2,925 metric tons of explosives destined for the French war effort. After exchanging warning signals, both vessels initiated evasion maneuvers but ultimately collided.

The Mont-Blanc caught fire after several drums of benzol tipped over on the deck, spilling their contents, which ignited, and the vessel drifted into a pier.

As crowds gathered, drawn in by the rising pall of smoke, emergency personnel tried to control the damage. However, just after 9:04 AM, the Mont-Blanc exploded. The blast and the resulting tsunami, which surged approximately 60 feet above the high-water mark, pressed into the city. More than 1,600 buildings were destroyed by the wave, and debris was scattered for several miles. The force of the wave heaved the Imo toward the shore where it became grounded.

In the aftermath of the explosion, hospitals were packed with the wounded, and morgues struggled to identify and document the dead. News of the disaster spread quickly, and aid soon arrived from within Canada as well as from the United States.

The Halifax community remembers the disaster each December 6 with a service at the memorial bell tower located in Fort Needham Park. Internationally, the incident influenced the adoption of stricter maritime laws regarding cargo identification and harbour traffic control.

Though many factors were in play, it is understood that the disaster would have been avoided had safety protocols not been relaxed as a result of WW1 being in full swing at the time.

MINAMATA DISEASE

In the early 1950s, the residents of Minamata, a small coastal city in southern Japan, began observing some startling animal behavior. Cats would suddenly foam at the mouth, dance around wildly and throw themselves into the sea, whereas birds would crash land and fish would inexplicably go belly up.

Before long, humans too were suffering from what later became known as Minamata disease, slurring their speech, stumbling about and having trouble with simple tasks.

The culprit finally emerged in 1959, when it was determined that the chemical company Chisso Corporation, one of Minamata’s biggest employers, was dumping mercury into the sea as part of its manufacturing process and that this toxin was poisoning people (and animals) who ate the local seafood.

It is known that Minamata Disease is a disorder of the central nervous system and shows various signs and symptoms including sensory disturbance in the distal portions of four extremities, ataxia, concentric contraction of the visual field, etc.

Chisso continued releasing mercury-tainted wastewater until 1968, reportedly causing at least 2,000 deaths, as well as birth defects, paralysis and other maladies.

Minamata disease caused serious damage to the natural environment, human relations, and economic activities in these districts, as well as to the daily lives of the patients and their family members.

The health of survivors and their children are being monitored. A permanent museum and annual community ceremonies commemorate the worst mercury poisoning environmental disaster ever.

Like this, the case of Minamata Disease in Japan makes it clear that activities which give priority to economic goals but lack proper attention to the environment cause irreparable damages and bring undesirable results even from an economic point of view as well, since so many measures, huge costs and a long time period are required against these damages.

We hope that it will be realized again how consideration of environment is important and the efforts will be made to prevent environmental pollution in other countries having such experience in Japan as a lesson.

CHERNOBYL DISASTER

On 26 April, 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power station, located in Ukraine about 20 km south of the border of Belarus, suffered a major accident which was followed by a prolonged release to the atmosphere of large quantities of radioactive substances. The event was said to be the worst accident in the history of nuclear power.

The Chernobyl accident happened during a test to see how the plant would operate if it lost power. Plant operators made several mistakes, creating a poisonous and unstable environment in the reactor core. Nevertheless, they proceeded with the experiment, shutting down safety systems that would be lost during a power outage, including the turbine system that provided cooling water. With the flow reduced, the cooling water in the reactor began to boil and turn to steam. Operators tried to reinsert rods to slow and control the nuclear reaction, but a design flaw in the control rods caused them to jam. The steam likely caused an explosion in the reactor, which, in turn, caused a second explosion seconds later.

Debris from the explosion set out a number of fires around the Chernobyl plant. It released radioactive smoke into the atmosphere that spread over the western Soviet Union and Europe. The radioactive release has been estimated at 400 times the size of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The disaster could have been worse if not for the actions of Pripyat firefighters who were able to put out the fires before they caused explosions in the other three reactors.

The number of deaths directly caused by the Chernobyl disaster is usually estimated to be between 31 and 56, but the long-term effects of the disaster have impacted a much larger number of people.

An estimated 5,000 Soviet citizens eventually died from cancer and other radiation-induced illnesses caused by their exposure to the Chernobyl radiation, and millions more had their health adversely affected.  Many children also contracted thyroid cancer after drinking milk from cows in the area of Chernobyl.

In 2000, the last working reactors at Chernobyl were shut down and the plant was officially closed.

These indeed are some very sad and unfortunate world events that killed & destroyed the health of many. We hope companies, organizations and governments can in the future take seriously safety measures to prevent these as well as hold accountable multi dollar companies who for the sake of profit care less about the people.

Have a positive health attitude.

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