The top 10 corporate environmental disasters in U.S. history, with a focus on the ones that resulted in litigation and large corporate payouts:
- Deepwater Horizon oil spill: BP’s offshore drilling rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 caused the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history. BP paid over $20 billion in fines and compensation.
- Love Canal: Occidental Petroleum dumped 21,000 tons of toxic waste into the Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York, causing widespread contamination and birth defects. Occidental Petroleum paid over $130 million in settlements.
- Exxon Valdez oil spill: In 1989, Exxon’s oil tanker hit a reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil. Exxon paid over $1 billion in cleanup and compensation.
- DuPont Chemical leak: In 2014, a chemical leak at a DuPont plant in West Virginia contaminated the drinking water of over 300,000 people. DuPont paid over $670 million in settlements.
- Hinkley Groundwater Contamination: PG&E contaminated groundwater with chromium-6 in Hinkley, California, causing widespread health problems. PG&E paid over $333 million in settlements.
- Three Mile Island: In 1979, a nuclear reactor at the Three Mile Island power plant in Pennsylvania experienced a partial meltdown, causing radioactive gas to escape. The cleanup cost over $1 billion.
- Flint Water Crisis: In 2014, Flint, Michigan switched its water source to the Flint River, causing lead contamination in the city’s water supply. The state of Michigan paid $600 million in settlements.
- Volkswagen Emissions Scandal: In 2015, Volkswagen was found to have installed software in its diesel cars that allowed them to cheat on emissions tests. Volkswagen paid over $25 billion in settlements.
- Cuyahoga River Fire: In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio caught fire due to pollution from industrial waste. The incident spurred environmental activism and led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Kingston Fossil Plant Coal Ash Spill: In 2008, a retention pond at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee breached, releasing over 1 billion gallons of coal ash sludge into the surrounding area. The cleanup cost over $1 billion.