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Oil Pollution in Arkansas

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On March 29, an ExxonMobil pipeline carrying oil from Canadian tar sands ruptured in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, northwest of Little Rock. Between 5000 and 7000 barrels of oil spilled into nearby waterways.

ExxonMobil and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality claim everything is safe for residents. But the residents’ own bodies tell them this is not true:

“I could smell that horrible smell. I got really scared,”says Sherry Appleman, who awoke to a nightmare on March 29. As the Exxon Tar Sands oil flowed through their town, residents of Mayflower reported strong odors that lead to headaches and vomiting in areas that Exxon deemed safe and not in need of evacuation. Some of residents, like Scott Crowe, were deemed safe to remain in their homes where a mere 300 yards from the rupture site. They say they haven’t heard from city officials or Exxon, but have experienced headaches, stomach pains, nausea, fainting, and have been prescribed inhalers for the first time.

Ann Jarrell reports that she stayed at home with her daughter and a 3 month old grandchild despite the smells because they were told they didn’t need to evacuate and were safe. Ann Jarrell is a beekeeper and found dead, oil-soaked bees on her porch. The state plant board agreed to evacuate her bees to a safe location, but deemed the situation safe enough for Jarell’s family. They later learned it was likely they’d been exposed to toxic chemical fumes, and are now suffering from breathing problems and have been placed on inhalers.

A local elementary school outside the evacuation zone had to send home eight students who became ill after breathing petrochemical fumes. Although Exxon had determined the air around the school safe, residents, including school officials, reported strong odors of oil in and around the building. These are just a handful of disturbing examples of illness in Mayflower after the oil spill. One Mayflower resident, despite being able to see the leak from her home, was told by Exxon that residents were merely suffering allergies. Some of the residents affected by the spill have filed a class action lawsuit.

It’s in the interest of both the company and a state who desires to serve corporations to deny any real problems are taking place. At the very least, the company should have to pay for long-term testing and be held financially responsible for any health problems that result from oil exposure. I guess this is what the class-action suit is for, but it would be better if residents didn’t have to come to this. Not surprisingly, ExxonMobil has tried to cover up the extent of the problem.

In the world of petroleum, this is an everyday event. It usually doesn’t happen in the United States, although it certainly has in the past. Normally, it is Nigerians, Venezuelans, Indonesians, and the immigrants who work the refineries in the Arabian Peninsula who suffer from direct exposure to the oil industry. But with the future of tar sands pipelines, Americans will suffer direct exposure more frequently.

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