California’s Top 10 Environmental Disasters: #7 – Cantara Loop Spill

Countless fish gasp for air and attempt to jump out of the Shasta river during one of California's most destructive chemical spills.

Countless fish gasp for air and attempt to jump out of the Sacramento river during one of California’s most destructive chemical spills.


In 1991, when a railroad tanker spilled its contents into the upper Sacramento River, Jim Pedri, supervising engineer for the California Regional Water Quality Control Board’s Central Valley office, called it “the worst chemical-environmental disaster inland in California history,” according to the New York Times. It killed every living thing in the river for a 45-mile stretch.

The tanker was one of seven to slide off the tracks as it was being pulled by Southern Pacific Transportation Company. It contained the name-brand weed, insect and nematode killer Alco.

The chemical blob entered into the Shasta Dam Reservoir, killing at least 1.1 million fish as it flowed with the water and in the ensuing aftermath.

The railroad employees and those who helped to clean up the spill faced medical issues ranging from relatively mild to more severe, which led to payouts, not only for the people involved but for their children as well.

Go to Chevron El Segundo ranked #6 on our list.