What are the environmental effects of chemical spills?

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llltkl | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Chemical spills can have drastic effects on people, wildlife and the environment. These effects will depend on where the chemical is released, how much is spilled and, most importantly, the chemical itself. Factors such as the chemical's toxicity, transport properties and environmental persistence will come into play. Some examples of large scale spills are as follows:
A large spill of caustic soda into the Cheakamus River in British Columbia in 2005 killed half a million fish. Add to it the less obvious long term damages downstream. The worst industrial chemical spill of all time is considered to be the Bhopal gas disaster in 1984, when the toxic chemical methyl isocyanide (MIC) escaped from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. Most conservative estimates put the number of dead at 10,000, and the number of injured run into lakhs. The long term effects are even more dreadful. In 2010, a holding pond containing toxic tailings from a mine in Hungary broke open and released almost 200 million gallons of mud contaminated with dangerous chemicals such as arsenic and mercury. This toxic mix eventually made its way into the Danube river. Oil spills pose serious threats to fresh water and marine environments, affecting surface resources and a wide range of subsurface organisms that are linked in a complex food chain. Spilled oil can harm the environment in several ways, including the physical damages that directly impact wildlife and their habitats (such as coating birds or mammals with a layer of oil), and the toxicity of the oil itself, which can poison exposed organisms. In 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling oil spill became the worst such spill in U.S. history, releasing more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Another area of global environmental concern is the accidental spill of radioactive chemicals into the oceans such as the one that occurred on March 11, 2011 in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.