Anthropogenic hazard

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Anthropogenic hazards or human-made hazards can result in the form of a human-made disaster. In this case, anthropogenic means threats having an element of human intent, negligence, or error; or involving a failure of a human-made system. This is as opposed to natural hazards that cause natural disasters. Either can result in huge losses of life and property as well as damage to peoples' mental, physical and social well-being.

Sociological hazards[edit]


Main article: Crime

Crime is a breach of the law for which some governing authority (via the legal systems) can ultimately prescribe a conviction which will carry some form of penalty, such as imprisonment, a fine, or, in (at least some) extreme cases, even execution. At least in the view of the legislators, the criminal act will cause harm to other people. Each legal jurisdiction may define crime differently. While every crime violates the law, not every violation of the law counts as a crime: for example, breaches of contract and of other private law may rank as "offenses" or as "infractions". Modern societies generally regard crimes as offenses against the public or the state, distinguished from torts (offenses against private parties that can give rise to a civil cause of action).

In context, not all crimes constitute human-made hazards.


A building damaged by arson
Main article: Arson

Arson is the criminal intent of setting a fire with intent to cause damage. The definition of arson was originally limited to setting fire to buildings, but was later expanded to include other objects, such as bridges, vehicles, and private property. Arson is the greatest recorded cause of fire. Some human-induced fires are accidental: failing machinery such as a kitchen stove is a major cause of accidental fires.[1]

Civil disorder[edit]

Main articles: Civil disorder and Riot

Civil disorder is a broad term that is typically used by law enforcement to describe forms of disturbance. Although civil disorder does not necessarily escalate to a disaster in all cases, the event may escalate into general chaos. Rioting has many causes, including large-scale criminal conspiracy, socioeconomic factors (unemployment, poverty), hostility between racial and ethnic groups and mass outrage over perceived moral and legal transgressions. Examples of well-known civil disorders and riots are the Poll Tax Riots in the United Kingdom in 1990; the 1992 Los Angeles riots in which 53 people died; the 2008 Greek riots after a 15-year-old boy was fatally shot by police; and the 2010 Thai political protests in Bangkok during which 91 people died.


Main articles: Terrorism and Asymmetric warfare
September 11 attacks, which are in multiple categories of human made disaster: terrorist attack, air disaster, arson, and structural collapse

Terrorism is a controversial term with varied definitions. One definition means a violent action targeting civilians exclusively. Another definition is the use or threatened use of violence for the purpose of creating fear in order to achieve a political, religious, or ideological goal. Under the second definition, the targets of terrorist acts can be anyone, including civilians, government officials, military personnel, or people serving the interests of governments.

Definitions of terrorism may also vary geographically. In Australia, the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act 2002, defines terrorism as "an action to advance a political, religious or ideological cause and with the intention of coercing the government or intimidating the public", while the United States Department of State operationally describes it as "premeditated, politically-motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience".[2]


Main article: War

War is a conflict between relatively large groups of people, which involves physical force inflicted by the use of weapons. Warfare has destroyed entire cultures, countries, economies and inflicted great suffering on humanity. Other terms for war can include armed conflict, hostilities, and police action. Acts of war are normally excluded from insurance contracts and sometimes from disaster planning.

Technological hazards[edit]

Industrial hazards[edit]

Industrial disasters occur in a commercial context, such as mining accidents. They often have an environmental impact. The Bhopal disaster is the world's worst industrial disaster to date, and the Chernobyl disaster is regarded the worst nuclear accident in history. Hazards may have longer-term and more dispersed effects, such as dioxin and DDT poisoning.

Structural collapse[edit]

Structural collapses are often caused by engineering failures. Bridge failures may be caused in several ways, such as under-design (as in the Tay Bridge disaster), by corrosion attack (such as in the Silver Bridge collapse), or by aerodynamic flutter of the deck (as in Galloping Gertie, the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge). Failure of dams was not infrequent during the Victorian era, such as the Dale Dyke dam failure in Sheffield, England in the 1860s, causing the Great Sheffield Flood. Other failures include balcony collapses or building collapses such as that of the World Trade Center.

Power outage[edit]

Main article: Power outage

A power outage is an interruption of normal sources of electrical power. Short-term power outages (up to a few hours) are common and have minor adverse effect, since most businesses and health facilities are prepared to deal with them. Extended power outages, however, can disrupt personal and business activities as well as medical and rescue services, leading to business losses and medical emergencies. Extended loss of power can lead to civil disorder, as in the New York City blackout of 1977. Only very rarely do power outages escalate to disaster proportions, however, they often accompany other types of disasters, such as hurricanes and floods, which hampers relief efforts.

Electromagnetic pulses and voltage spikes from whatever cause can also damage electricity infrastructure and electrical devices.

Recent notable power outages include the 2005 Java–Bali Blackout which affected 100 million people, 2012 India blackouts which affected 600 million and the 2009 Brazil and Paraguay blackout which affected 60 million people.


An active flame front of the Zaca Fire
Main articles: Bush fire, Fire, Mine fire, Wildfire and Firestorm

Bush fires, forest fires, and mine fires are generally started by lightning, but also by human negligence or arson. They can burn thousands of square kilometers. If a fire intensifies enough to produce its own winds and "weather", it will form into a firestorm. A good example of a mine fire is the one near Centralia, Pennsylvania. Started in 1962, it ruined the town and continues to burn today. Some of the biggest city-related fires are The Great Chicago Fire, The Peshtigo Fire (both of 1871) and the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Casualties resulting from fires, regardless of their source or initial cause, can be aggravated by inadequate emergency preparedness. Such hazards as a lack of accessible emergency exits, poorly marked escape routes, or improperly maintained fire extinguishers or sprinkler systems may result in many more deaths and injuries than might occur with such protections.

Hazardous materials[edit]

Main article: Dangerous goods

Radiation contamination[edit]

When nuclear weapons are detonated or nuclear containment systems are otherwise compromised, airborne radioactive particles (nuclear fallout) can scatter and irradiate large areas. Not only is it deadly, but it also has a long-term effect on the next generation for those who are contaminated. Ionizing radiation is hazardous to living things, and in such a case much of the affected area could be unsafe for human habitation. During World War II, United States troops dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As a result, the radiation fallout contaminated the cities' water supplies, food sources, and half of the populations of each city were stricken with disease. In the Soviet Union, the Mayak industrial complex (otherwise known as Chelyabinsk-40 or Chelyabinsk-65) exploded in 1957. The Kyshtym disaster was kept secret for several decades. It is the third most serious nuclear accident ever recorded. At least 22 villages were exposed to radiation and resulted in at least 10,000 displaced persons. In 1992 the former soviet union officially acknowledge the accident. Other Soviet republics of Ukraine and Belarus suffered also when a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant had a meltdown in 1986. To this day, several small towns and the city of Chernobyl remain abandoned and uninhabitable due to fallout.

The Goiânia accident was a radioactive contamination accident that occurred on September 13, 1987, at Goiânia, in the Brazilian state of Goiás, after an old radiotherapy source was stolen from an abandoned hospital site in the city. It was subsequently handled by many people, resulting in four deaths. About 112,000 people were examined for radioactive contamination and 249 were found to have significant levels of radioactive material in or on their bodies.[1][2] In the cleanup operation, topsoil had to be removed from several sites, and several houses were demolished. All the objects from within those houses were removed and examined. Time magazine has identified the accident as one of the world's "worst nuclear disasters" and the International Atomic Energy Agency called it "one of the world's worst radiological incidents"

Another nuclear power disaster that is ongoing is Fukushima Daiichi.

In the 1970s, a similar threat scared millions of Americans when a failure occurred at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant in Pennsylvania. However, the incident was resolved and the area fortunately retained little contamination.

The Hanford Site is a decommissioned nuclear production complex that produced plutonium for most of the 60,000 weapons in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. There are environmental concerns about radioactivity released from Hanford.

Two major plutonium fires in 1957 and 1970

at the Rocky Flats Plant, located about 15 miles northwest of Denver was not publicly reported until the 1970s.

A number of military accidents involving nuclear weapons have also resulted in radioactive contamination, for example the 1966 Palomares B-52 crash and the 1968 Thule Air Base B-52 crash.

Dermatitis (burn) of chin from vapors of mustard gas


Main article: CBRN

CBRN is a catch-all acronym for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear. The term is used to describe a non-conventional terror threat that, if used by a nation, would be considered use of a weapon of mass destruction. This term is used primarily in the United Kingdom. Planning for the possibility of a CBRN event may be appropriate for certain high-risk or high-value facilities and governments. Examples include Saddam Hussein's Halabja poison gas attack, the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway and the preceding test runs in Matsumoto, Japan 100 kilometers outside of Tokyo,[3] and Lord Amherst giving smallpox laden blankets to Native Americans.[4]



The ditching of US Airways Flight 1549 was a well-publicised incident in which all on board survived
Main article: Air disasters

An aviation incident is an occurrence other than an accident, associated with the operation of an aircraft, which affects or could affect the safety of operations, passengers, or pilots. The category of the vehicle can range from a helicopter, an airliner, or a space shuttle. The world's worst airliner disaster is the Tenerife crash of 1977, when miscommunications between and amongst air traffic control and an aircrew caused two fully laden jets to collide on the runway, killing 583 people.


Granville-Paris Express wreck at Gare Montparnasse on 22 October 1895
Main article: Rail disasters

A railroad disaster is an occurrence associated with the operation of a passenger train which results in substantial loss of life. Usually accidents with freight (goods) trains are not considered disasters, unless they cause substantial loss of life or property. One of the most devastating rail disasters occurred in 2004 in Sri Lanka when 1,700 people died in the Sri Lanka tsunami-rail disaster. Other notable rail disasters are the 1989 Ufa accident in Russia which killed 574, and the 1917 Modane train accident in France which killed 540.

See also the list of train accidents by death toll.


Traffic collisions are the leading cause of death, and road-based pollution creates a substantial health hazard, especially in major conurbations.


Disintegration of the Space Shuttle Challenger

Space travel presents significant hazards, mostly to the direct participants (astronauts or cosmonauts and ground support personnel), but also carry the potential of disaster to the public at large. Accidents related to space travel have killed 22 astronauts and cosmonauts, and a larger number of people on the ground.

Accidents can occur on the ground during launch, preparation, or in flight, due to equipment malfunction or the naturally hostile environment of space itself. An additional risk is posed by (unmanned) low-orbiting satellites whose orbits eventually decay due to friction with the extremely thin atmosphere. If they are large enough, massive pieces travelling at great speed can fall to the Earth before burning up, with the potential to do damage.

The worst space disaster to date occurred on February 15, 1996 in Sichuan, China, when a Long March 3B rocket, carrying the Intelsat 708 telecommunications satellite, suffered a guidance system failure two seconds after liftoff and crashed into a nearby village. The Chinese government officially reported six deaths and 57 injuries, but some U.S. estimates run as high as 200 deaths.

The second worst disaster was the Nedelin catastrophe which occurred in the Soviet Union on October 24, 1960, when an R-16 intercontinental ballistic missile exploded on the launch pad, killing around 120 (best estimate) military ground support personnel. The Soviet government refused to acknowledge the incident until 1989, then claiming only 78 deaths.

One of the worst human-piloted space accidents involved the Space Shuttle Challenger which disintegrated in 1986, claiming all seven lives on board. The shuttle disintegrated 73 seconds after taking off from the launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Another example is the Space Shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated during a landing attempt over Texas in 2003, with a loss of all seven astronauts on board. The debris field extended from New Mexico to Mississippi.

Sea travel[edit]

Main article: List of shipwrecks
The capsized cruise ship Costa Concordia with a large rock lodged in the crushed hull of the ship

Ships can sink, capsize or crash in disasters. Perhaps the most infamous sinking was that of the Titanic which hit an iceberg and sank, resulting in one of the worst maritime disasters in history. Other notable incidents include the capsizing of the Costa Concordia, which killed at least 32 people; and is the largest passenger ship to sink, and the sinking of the MV Doña Paz, which claimed the lives of up to 4,375 people in the worst peacetime maritime disaster in history.


Some human-made disasters have been particularly notable for the high costs associated with responding to and recovering from them, including:

The costs of disasters varies considerably depending on a range of factors, such as the geographical location where they occur. When a disaster occurs in a densely populated area in a wealthy country, the financial damage might be huge, but when a comparable disaster occurs in a densely populated area in a poorer country, the actual financial damage might be relatively small, in part due to a lack of insurance. For example, the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami (although obviously not human-made) with a death toll of over 230,000 people, cost $15 billion,[7] whereas the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in which 11 people died, the damages were six-fold.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Disaster Preparedness Planning". Conservation OnLine. Retrieved 2012-01-29. 
  2. ^ "The Definition of Terrorism CM 7052" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-01-29. 
  3. ^ "V. Crimes of the Cult - A Case Study on the Aum Shinrikyo". Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved 2012-01-29. 
  4. ^ "Amherst and Smallpox". Retrieved 2012-01-29. 
  5. ^ Mark A. Cohen. "A Taxonomy of Oil Spill Costs" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-11-12. 
  6. ^ "Nuclear industry: Face your demons - towards full liability for nuclear power plant operators | Friends of the Earth Europe" (PDF). 2007-10-01. Retrieved 2012-07-21. 
  7. ^ Schonhardt, Sara. "Costs beyond measure". Retrieved 2012-01-29.