Fort McMurray, Canada The first step in the oil sands process after extraction is ‘upgrading’, in which particulate matter is removed from the bitumen and its viscosity reduced so that refineries can process it. This is a photograph of the top of a petroleum tank, with a walkway out to the covered inspection hatch in the centre. This tank stores 400,000 to 500,000 barrels of the world’s dirtiest oil, obtained by excavating large areas of Canadian tar sands.
Fort McMurray, Canada The first step in the oil sands process after extraction is ‘upgrading’, in which particulate matter is removed from the bitumen and its viscosity reduced so that refineries can process it. This is a photograph of the top of a petroleum tank, with a walkway out to the covered inspection hatch in the centre. This tank stores 400,000 to 500,000 barrels of the world’s dirtiest oil, obtained by excavating large areas of Canadian tar sands.J Henry Fair
Fort McMurray, Canada The first step in the oil sands process after extraction is ‘upgrading’, in which particulate matter is removed from the bitumen and its viscosity reduced so that refineries can process it. This is a photograph of the top of a petroleum tank, with a walkway out to the covered inspection hatch in the centre. This tank stores 400,000 to 500,000 barrels of the world’s dirtiest oil, obtained by excavating large areas of Canadian tar sands.
Luling, LouisianaNew evidence contradicts previous claims of the relative safety of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, which is manufactured here. It is often used in conjunction with seeds that have been genetically modified to tolerate its application, meaning that anyone consuming these crops is eating a genetically modified plant, and whatever residue of the pesticide remains.
Warsaw, North CarolinaHog fecal waste is stored in lagoons until it can be sprayed onto fields for disposal. The eastern part of North Carolina is characterized by many estuary systems, so anything on a field runs off immediately into the adjacent wetland, then to the river, and finally to the ocean. In the wetlands the elevated nutrient level from the fecal matter causes rampant algal growth. The algae is toxic to most of the other life in the wetland, and absorbs all the dissolved oxygen in the water which suffocates the other life forms.
Shippingport, PennsylvaniaThis coal ash dump on the Pennsylvania/West Virginia border is the largest in the USA. It is one of the ‘high hazard’ coal ash impoundments. If it fails, like the smaller one in Kingston Tenessee did in 2008, it would cause loss of life and property.
Pascagoula, MississippiThe moving gangway indicates that this is a floating-roof oil tank, the storage workhorse of the petroleum industry. The top has apparently been painted and then rusted several times. Numerous shafts prevent this floating lid from touching the bottom of the tank if it is emptied. Workers can enter the emptied tank through the small manholes in the centre to clean the interior.
Pineville, South Carolina Diagrams of this facility indicate that this is a bottom ash pond, the heavier, dark solid waste remaining in the boiler furnace after coal combustion. The white material suggests that flue-gas desulphurisation lime waste was also being dumped here. The landscape has completely changed through ongoing waste disposal since this image was made.
Kiruna, SwedenWaste material at Kiruna Iron Mine. Kiruna has produced over 950 million tonnes of ore since it opened, only one-third of the known reserves still remain underground to be mined.
Darrow, LouisianaThis ‘red mud’ waste from the processing of bauxite ore is the same type of toxic material that spilled south of Budapest in 2010, flowing into the River Marcal, killing all the wildlife there, before flowing into and poisoning the Danube. The more than one million cubic metres of waste could only be completely neutralized by one million cubic metres of strong acid, an ironic thing to have to pour into a river in an attempt to save it.
Oil from BP Deepwater Horizon spill at the Gulf Macondo well floats on the Gulf of Mexico
Silver City, New MexicoAt this mine, dilute sulfuric acid is percolated through enormous heaps of oxidized, low-grade ore (well under one per cent copper). The acid dissolves the copper and the resulting leachate is collected at the bottom of the heaps. It is then treated in a solvent extraction/electrowinning (SX/EW) chemical and electrolytic process to produce 99.99 per cent pure cathode copper. The dashes along the main haul truck route in the open pit are patches of water sprayed from a special tank truck to control dust.
Lausitz, GermanyThe Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) website asserts: “Waste created by a typical 500 megawatt coal plant includes more than 125,000 tonnes of ash and 193,000 tonnes of sludge from the smokestack scrubber each year. Toxic substances in the waste, including arsenic, mercury, chromium, and cadmium, can contaminate drinking water supplies and damage vital human organs and the nervous system.” Every year, among many other things, this power plant releases about 238 kilograms of mercury and 10,700,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air, and 168 kilograms of arsenic into the ground.
Gramercy, LouisianaRed mud waste material from an aluminium refinery is pumped onto the upper surface of a massive waste impoundment in a water slurry. The impoundments are essentially very large shallow bowls, engineered to de-water the slurry through evaporation and an internal drainage system fed by an arrangement of funnel-like decant points where water collects in pools.
Fort McMurray, Canada The first step in the oil sands process after extraction is ‘upgrading’, in which particulate matt
... VIEW MORE

J Henry Fair
1 of 12

These Aerial Photos Reveal the Devastating Cost of Industrial Pollution

Oct 28, 2016

When photographer J. Henry Fair first started photographing industrial sites from the air, he didn't know exactly what he was looking at—so, he learned. This is what making phosphate fertilizer looks like, this is leeching copper ore, this is waste from an aluminum refinery. Now, the images were more than "a beautiful green thing" or "a beautiful red thing," they were fitting into a story, what Fair calls, "the big story."

Industrial Scars, his new book, attempts to show the vast and incredible marks that humans have left on the planet, from fracking to copper mining to the production of food. "Climate change is so big that people don’t really get it", he says, "A picture does tell a story that words can’t tell."

Taking photos from the air allows Fair to see things that would otherwise, sometime purposefully, remain hidden from public view. "There are two inherent beauties in doing [aerial] photographs," he says, "one, it’s just such an interesting viewpoint for a human and, two, you can get over the fences." He often partners with environmental groups LightHawk and SouthWings, both of which provide planes and pilots for conservation projects or what Fair referred to as "one of my wild goose chases."

The need to be in the air for a long time is one of the reasons he has rejected the frequent suggestion that he use a drone. Once he finds a site, he circles it "endlessly" to get the perfect shot, a behavior the FBI once found suspicious enough to wake him up in his hotel room, he reports in the book. Another more surprising consideration is turbulence caused by the hot gases coming up off many industrial sites.

A couple of locations in particular stand out to him as particularly horrific, the tar sands in Canada and mountain-top removal mining in Appalachia. The gulf spill, however, he recalled as the most traumatic. "Just being out there, day after day, and watching it, feeling angry and helpless."

Although horrific, the images are beautiful, even awe-inspiring. It's this "essential dissonance," Fair says, that makes them effective, that makes people stop, look and, hopefully, think.

Fair hopes that the images will help viewers make connections between their daily lives and the price that those banal activities exact on the environment. "Buy a fast food hamburger," he says, "and you’re cutting down the Brazilian rainforest to grow soy to grow cattle to ship them to America to make you a fast food burger. That’s climate change."

Industrial Scars is published by Papadakis.

J Henry Fair is a photographer and environmental activist based in New York and Berlin. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.