|Ten Worst Environmental Disasters: Kuwait Oil Fires|
|Written by Émilie St-Hilaire, Four Green Steps|
|Friday, 13 July 2012 00:39|
Written by Émilie St-Hilaire, Four Green Steps
This disaster took place at the end of the Gulf War in February of 1991. Before leaving Kuwait, the Iraq troops were ordered by Saddam Hussein to use the Scorched Earth Policy, a military strategy which consists of destroying anything that could be useful to the enemy before leaving. More than 700 wells of oils were destroyed, about 600 burned and 80 damaged, spilling their oil. During nine months, 4.6 million barrels of oil were lost each day.
During the war, landmines were placed in the desert where the wells were situated. There had to be a military clean up before the firefighters could stop the fires. If firefighters had not been there to extinguish the fires finally in November 1991, the fires could have continued to burn for many years. Unfortunately, many firefighters were injured when trying to stop the fires. After the fires were stopped, caps were put over the wells to close them.
Burning oil releases carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A thick layer of sooth and smoke blocked the sun, causing temperatures to drop in the Persian Gulf area. The smoke plume went up to 20 000 feet in the atmosphere. A temperature inversion caused the cold polluted air to stay at ground level, while the layer of sooth blocked the sun and prevented the polluted air to heat up and rise. The wind spread the smoke, covering the Persian Gulf countries. Added to the oil that was burned, 250 million gallons were spilled in the Persian Gulf, or accumulated to form oil lakes in the middle of the desert.
The oil that condensed in a smog encrusted plants and contaminated the rare freshwater supplies of the desert. Migrating birds died when they passed through the smoke. Wading birds were covered with oil, and other marine species were contaminated. The fishing industry of the Persian Gulf was devastated. Both animals and humans appeared to have increased lung diseases during the presence of the oil mist. The Persian Gulf population was exposed to many other health risks, including lung cancer and skin diseases.
Back in 1991, scientists were predicting that this disaster was going to have a devastating global impact on the ozone layer and climate patterns. Now, the desert has been cleaned up. There was no sign “Nuclear Winter” or big hole in the Ozone layer, but animal species and Persian Gulf population have still suffered from this disaster that could have been avoided.
Image courtesy of Creative Commons.
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