Pollution is, of course, a problem in everyday life. We deal with smog, blasting noise, and trash all the time. But that's just the annoying stuff. There are other things out there that are far less annoying and more absolutely terrifying and revolting.
By Dan Seitz
6. The Pacific Garbage Patch
Hey, remember that song "Message in a Bottle"? About the guy throwing bottles into the ocean? Yeah, if The Police had known anything about the ocean's currents, it would have ended after the second verse.
It's easy to think that all the crap we throw in the ocean just goes somewhere else with a shore, but increasingly, it goes to the Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge wad of crap created by the intersection of multiple currents. Mostly it's just the stuff that floats. Like plastic! And chemical sludge!
But it can't be that bad, right? How big could it be?
Well...roughly twice the size of Texas. And growing. But don't worry! Small animals are adapting to eat the stuff. It's just the big animals that it's killing.
5. Centralia Coal Fire
Source: DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images
Centralia, Pennsylvania was, until around 1962, a small, nice little town. They mined coal, cooked hot dogs, and things were generally quiet. Until the fire department tried to take care of the town dump by, um, burning it. Which in turn lit the rich veins of coal underneath the town, setting off the biggest coal fire in history.
How bad was the fire?
It's still burning.
Weirdly, the people of Centralia largely decided to stick around for twenty years or so, until the massive sinkholes opening to a hell of thousand-degree heat and noxious, choking gases of death just wound up being too much. In the '80s, the state seized most of the houses and the Post Office revoked their ZIP Code. But there are still two people living there and, weirdly, a busy tourist trade. We guess a helluva lot of fatal heat and deadly gases appeals to some people.
4. Cuyahoga River Fire
Ahhhhh, Cleveland. Cleveland has been an upstanding and joyous member of the fraternity of American cities. It's given us great funk music, Drew Carey, and LeBron. But there are two national disgraces that live in Cleveland: the Browns and the history of the Cuyahoga River.
The Cuyahoga had the distinction, at one point, of being one of the most polluted rivers in America, in fact, so polluted that it stops being an environment disaster and turns into a series of yo mama jokes. Yo city's river so polluted, leeches won't live in it (yes, the Cuyahoga was so polluted nothing, not even disgusting bloodsucking monsters, would live in it). Yo city's river so polluted, it bubbles up toxic gases. And, of course, yo city's river so polluted, it caught on fire on a regular basis.
Yep, the Cuyahoga burned. In fact, it burned a lot. Between the 1870s and the 1960s, the Cuyahoga caught on fire no less than 13 times thanks to the oils and other crap private industry and the city itself dumped into it repeatedly. In 1969, the fire was so bad it actually embarassed the entire nation, including Richard freaking Nixon, into adopting the Clean Water Act.
Still not as embarassing as the Browns, though.
3. West Virginia's Terrifying Water
Source: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Hey, speaking of the Clean Water Act, want to know what happens when you completely disregard it? Just ask the nice folks in and near Charleston, West Virginia. Before you make with the hick jokes, it's worth remembering, for those who slept through second grade social studies, that Charleston isn't in the middle of nowhere with people playing banjos. It's the state capital.
It also has plenty of delicious additives thanks to the local mining efforts. Items like nickel, lead, arsenic, barium, all those really good metals that are nice, tasty, delicious, oh, and also terrible for your health.
How terrible? Try “erode the enamel off your teeth just by drinking the water” bad. Try “scabs and rashes all over your body” bad.
So, yeah, lots of fun.
2. Turkmenistan's Gates of Hell
Source: Wikipedia/Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic
In Turkmenistan, they have many, many natural resources, including natural gas. Unfortunately, in Turkmenistan, they also lack proper safety procedures and knowledge to actually get this stuff out of the ground without killing somebody or triggering some form of disaster. All of this combines to create some interesting circumstances, such as the world's largest natural gas fire.
You might be wondering how big this gas fire is. Well, “The Door To Hell” is not a polite sobriquet: there are people who sincerely believe that somebody actually dug a door to hell, which is where the fire comes from, instead of somebody being stupid with a cigarette. People were so convinced that news articles actually ran on some of the more credulous news station saying that people heard the screams of the damned.
On the bright side, at least it's somewhat scenic.
1. The Big Smoke of London
Source: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
You might be wondering why some air pollution in 1952 ranks above tooth-rotting water, sinkholes opening in the ground, and gigantic piles of toxic crap floating in the ocean. Well, that's because none of those killed people on a scale of thousands.
The Great Smoke was due partially thanks to weather patterns: an “anti-cyclone” dropped on London like a rock. In 1952, most Londoners burned coal to keep warm, and London's industries naturally dumped tons of stuff into the air, because what's the worst that could happen?
Roughly 12,000 fatalities. Yep, the Great Smoke didn't just reduce visibility so badly people couldn't drive, it didn't just seep into buildings making going to the movies impossible, it had the fatality rate of a small war. So, in case anybody says to you that pollution never killed anybody, just ask the English.
But at least the undertakers had a good week. So it improved the economy. That's something.