1957 – A fire breaks out at Rocky Flats nuclear plant

Constructed in 1952 near Denver, Colorado, the Rocky Flats Nuclear Plant began production of bomb components, manufacturing plutonium triggers, or “pits” in 1953. By 1957, the plant had expanded to 27 buildings.

On the evening of September 11, 1957, a plutonium fire occurred in one of the gloveboxes used to handle radioactive materials, igniting the combustible rubber gloves and plexiglas windows of the box. Metallic plutonium is a fire hazard and pyrophoric; under the right conditions it may ignite in air at room temperature. The accident resulted in the contamination of Building 771 and caused US $818,600 in damage. It also occasioned the release of plutonium into the atmosphere, part of which blew over Denver. Although this particular event is not believed to have caused contamination, subsequent fires and leaks from the plant did.

Referenced in:
Cesspools in Eden — Dead Kennedys

1953 – The coverup of toxic waste dumping at Love Canal begins

To be fair, it wasn’t that much of a cover-up on the part of the company. The deed of sale for the site, sold by Hooker Chemicals to the Niagara Falls School Board in 1953 for $1 does specifically mention the presence of the toxic waste, mostly so that the company’s legal liability for the 21,000 tons of chemicals including caustics, alkalines, fatty acids and chlorinated hydrocarbons – residue and waste from the manufacturing of dyes, perfumes, solvents for rubber and synthetic resins – could be limited. The company specifically enjoins against building on the site, because they had a very good idea of how dangerous these chemicals were.

The school board went ahead and built primary schools on the area, and later houses were built as well. Presumably, no members of that school board lived in the area or sent their children to school there. In 1976, journalists began investigating rumours regarding the abnormally high rates of birth defects and diseases in the area – leading to a poorly kept secret becoming front page news across America.

Referenced in:

Cesspools in Eden — Dead Kennedys

1984 – The Union Carbide plant at Bhopal explodes

The Bhopal disaster (also referred to as the Bhopal gas tragedy) is the worst industrial catastrophe in the history of the world.

It occurred on the night of December 2–3, 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. A number of chemicals – most notably methyl isocyanate gas – leaked out of the plant, and literally hundreds of thousands of people were exposed to it. Many of them were killed.

Estimates vary on the death toll. The official immediate death toll was 2,259 and the government of Madhya Pradesh has confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release subsequently. Other governmental agencies estimated 3,000, 8,000 and even 15,000 deaths from diseases and injuries resulting from the disaster. In 2006, a government affidavit gave a figure 558,125 injuries including 38,478 temporary partial and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries.

Union Carbide continues its business today, its safety standards not much improved from 1984.

Referenced in:
R.S.V.P. — B. Dolan
Cesspools in Eden — Dead Kennedys
I Close My Eyes — Single Gun Theory
Bhopal (Driftnet Plan) — Bob Wiseman
No Thunder, No Fire, No Rain — Tim Finn