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Unraveling Environmental Disasters - 1st Edition - ISBN: 9780123970268, 9780123973177

Unraveling Environmental Disasters

1st Edition

Editors: Daniel Vallero Trevor Letcher
Hardcover ISBN: 9780123970268
eBook ISBN: 9780123973177
Imprint: Elsevier
Published Date: 26th November 2012
Page Count: 530
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Unraveling Environmental Disasters provides scientific explanations of the most threatening current and future environmental disasters, including an analysis of ways that the disaster could have been prevented and how the risk of similar disasters can be minimized in the future.

Key Features

  • Named a 2014 Outstanding Academic Title by the American Library Association's Choice publication
  • Treats disasters as complex systems
  • Provides predictions based upon sound science, such as what the buildup of certain radiant gases in the troposphere will do, or what will happen if current transoceanic crude oil transport continues
  • Considers the impact of human systems on environmental disasters


environmental scientists; management in disaster planning, risk assessment, safety training, and emergency planning; environmental engineers; oceanographers; occupational health specialists; political scientists; city planners; state and local government planners; individuals working in homeland security; chemists; military personnel; oil refinery managers; economists; and pharmaceutical researchers and regulators
undergraduate and graduate students studying environmental disasters

Table of Contents


Our Focus

Chapter 1. Failure


Disasters as Failures

Types of Failure

Types of Disasters

Systems Engineering

References and Notes

Chapter 2. Science

Scientific Advancement

Laws of Motion

Laws of Chemistry and Thermodynamics

Science in the Public Eye


Chapter 3. Explosions


Ammonium Nitrate

Picric Acid and TNT

Methyl Isocyanate

Natural Explosions—Volcanoes


Chapter 4. Plumes


Early Air Quality Disasters

Toxic Plumes

Plume Characterization

Nuclear Fallout Plumes

References and Notes

Chapter 5. Leaks

Surreptitious Disasters

Pollutant Transport in Groundwater

Love Canal


Times Beach

Valley of the Drums

Stringfellow Acid Pits

Tar Creek

The March Continues

References and Notes

Chapter 6. Spills

Disastrous Releases

Oil Spills

Niger River Delta Oil Spills

Other Spills

Partitioning in the Environment

References and Notes

Chapter 7. Fires

Fire Disaster Thermodynamics

Kuwait Oil Fires

Release of Radioactive Material

Indonesian Wildfires

World Trade Center Fire

The Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami

Other Major Fires

Tire Fires

Coal Mine Fires

Indirect Effect: Formation of Toxic Substances

Indirect Impact: Transport

References and Notes

Chapter 8. Climate

Global Climate Change

Greenhouse Gases

Consequences of Global Warming

Is It a Disaster?

Responding to Climate Change

Carbon and Climate

Potential Warming Disaster


Biological Drivers of Climate Change

References and Notes

Chapter 9. Nature




Ecosystem Resilience

References and Notes

Chapter 10. Minerals

Inorganic Substances

Toxic Metals



Surface Mining


References and Notes

Chapter 11. Recalcitrance

The Dirty Dozen

Agent Orange

Lake Apopka

James River

Persistent Wastes

The Arctic Disaster

References and Notes

Chapter 12. Radiation

Electromagnetic Radiation

Nuclear Radiation

Nuclear Plants

Nuclear Power Plant Failure

Is Nuclear Power Worth the Risks?

Meltdown at Chernobyl

The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster

Three Mile Island Nuclear Accident

Radioisotopes and Radiation Poisoning

Carbon Dating

Nuclear Waste Disposal

References and Notes

Chapter 13. Invasions

The Worst 100

Sensitive Habitats

References and Notes

Chapter 14. Products


Endocrine Disruptors and Hormonally Active Agents

Antibiotics: Superbugs and Cross-Resistance


Scientific Principles at Work

Milk and Terrorism

References and Notes

Chapter 15. Unsustainability




Platinum Group Metals


Rare Earth Metals

Other Metals



Carbon Dioxide

References and Notes

Chapter 16. Society


Solid Waste

Food Supply

Vinyl Chloride

Food Versus Fuel

Burning as a Societal Issue

Risk Trade-Offs

References and Notes

Chapter 17. Future


References and Notes

Glossary of Terms



No. of pages:
© Elsevier 2013
26th November 2012
Hardcover ISBN:
eBook ISBN:

About the Editors

Daniel Vallero

Daniel Vallero

Dr. Daniel A. Vallero is an internationally recognized expert in environmental science and engineering. His four decades of research, teaching and professional experience in hazardous waste engineering and management have addressed a wide range of human health risk and ecological issues, from global climate change to the release of hazardous wastes. His research has advanced the state-of-the-science of air and water pollution measurement, models of potential exposures to chemicals in consumer products, and environmental impact assessments. He established the Engineering Ethics program and is a key collaborator in the Responsible Conduct of Research Program at Duke University. These programs introduce students, from first-year through PhD, to the complex relationships between science, technology and societal demands on the engineer. The lessons learned from the cases in this book are a fundamental part of Duke’s preparation of its future engineers to address the ethical dilemmas likely to be encountered during the careers of the next generation engineers. Dr. Vallero received a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University, a Master of Science in City & Regional Planning from SIU, a Masters in Civil & Environmental Engineering (Environmental Health Sciences) from the University of Kansas, and a PhD in Civil & Environmental Engineering from Duke.

Affiliations and Expertise

Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA

Trevor Letcher

Trevor Letcher

Trevor M. Letcher is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry. He is a past Director of the International Association of Chemical Thermodynamics and his research involves the thermodynamics of liquid mixtures and energy from landfill. He was awarded the South African Chemical Institute’s Gold medal in 1999 and in 2000 he was awarded the South African Gold medal by the South African Association for the Advancement of Science. He has published over 250 papers in peer review journals and has edited, co-edited and written eleven books in his research and related fields. His latest books include Unraveling Environmental Disasters (2012), Materials for a Sustainable Future (2012), Waste (2011), Heat Capacities (2010), Climate Change (2009) and Future Energy (2008).

Affiliations and Expertise

Emeritus Professor, School of Chemistry, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa


CHOICE Outstanding Academic Titles, 2014


"This important, clearly written, well-organized book addresses a confluence of significant global issues and brings them into focus. Vallero…and Letcher…examine engineering failures within the context of generating environmental disasters…The book addresses related issues of sustainability, anthropogenic global warming, pesticide use and its impact on the food chain, vinyl chloride production, etc…Summing Up: Essential."--CHOICE Reviews Online, January 2014

Ratings and Reviews