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America's 10 worst man-made environmental disasters

June 14, 2010, 12:50 p.m.
Gulf oil spill

Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP

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Gulf oil spill

The Gulf oil spill began April 22, 2010 and leaked an estimated 206 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico, making it the worst oil spill in U.S. history and the largest accidental oil spill in the world. Oil washed ashore in all of the Gulf states, creating health threats for both humans and animals.

The spill began when an oil well a mile below the surface of the Gulf blew out, causing an explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 people. Oil flowed into Gulf for 87 days before the well was finally capped on July 16, 2010.

About 40 percent of the U.S. coastal wetlands are in southern Louisiana, and these areas are home to a variety of species, including the brown pelican, which was removed from the endangered species list in November. Miles of this delicate habitat were coated in oil, and the lives of more than 400 species were severely threatened.

The BP Deepwater Horizon spill also created vast plumes of oil behaving unlike any other spill in history. As these plumes moved through the sea, they suffocated everything in their path. Many of the long-term effects of these plumes and the chemical dispersants used to break up the oil on the ocean’s surface are unknown, but experts say they could devastate the Gulf Coast for years to come.