Two Months Later, Arkansas Residents Still Hurting From ExxonMobil Tar Sands Spill
More than two months after ExxonMobil’s 65-year-old Pegasus pipeline burst and spewed a gusher of thick Canadian tar sands oil through Mayflower, AR, and into a marsh on Lake Conway—the state’s most popular fishing spot—residents are still complaining of health problems and are worried about poisonous impacts on wildlife and in the environment. Many locals and some scientists have little faith in the continuous rosy assurances from Exxon and the Unified Command that testing results show the environment is safe and that tar sands oil has not contaminated the lake.
These include Mayflower residents Christina and Michael Seville, who were looking forward to visits this summer from grandkids at their modest home on Lake Conway. Their lives were suddenly turned upside down by the release of an estimated 200,000 gallons of noxious Canadian tar sands crude, much of which ended up in the marshy cove portion of Lake Conway near their home. They complain of constant headaches and coughs that have persisted since the spill occurred just before Easter, ailments they blame on the jet black tar sands crude that snaked through culverts past a shopping center and under the Interstate into the marsh on Lake Conway.
“We can’t have our grandkids over to visit anymore,” Christina says. “They’re covering up what’s really going on. There are fewer squirrels, birds and ducks than we normally see around here. Fish are not jumping in the water and they’re not catching anything around here. It’s not like it used to be.”
State officials insist air and water testing shows toxic contamination levels near the lake are safe and that most of the oil has been cleaned up. But that’s cold comfort to many who live near there. Marianne Wyckoff, who lives on the lake near the crude-contaminated marsh, says many near her don’t buy into official statements that everything is just fine. She doubts they can remove the tarry oil that is buried in the wetlands and has washed into the lake waters with every major rain.
“It seems like a big cover-up and everyone is paid off,” she says. “It’s getting hot and the oil is bubbling up out of the cove after torrential rains. The smell seems to be getting worse at times when it gets hot. My headaches have been coming back.”
Independent water and air tests also have shown elevated levels of contaminants. Scott Smith of Opflex Solutions, which provides oil cleanup services, says he has detected tar sands oil contaminants in extended tests in the water column of the lake, toxic chemicals like benzene and toluene he says match the fingerprint of the Canadian crude that poured out of the ExxonMobil pipeline.
“Our test results show the chemicals we are finding in the lake are exactly the same ones we tested for in the tar sands oil that flowed through town after the oil spill,” Smith says. He also says his results match some of the internal documents that Greenpeace released last month that indicate elevated levels of chemicals were found in the lake.
Wilma Subra, a Louisiana chemist and toxic expert who has closely studied the health impacts of the BP gulf oil spill, has also visited Mayflower and studied air and water testing in the area. She’s concerned about the long term impacts from chemicals that can persist and bioaccumulate in the environment. She’s working with local groups like the Faulkner County Citizens Advisory Group that is following health problems of residents in the area.
“I’m concerned that people have continued to be exposed to the oil during the cleanup,” Subra says. “We can’t just let them say everything is OK. We’ve heard that story before.”
The official story doesn’t jibe with Mayflower residents like Genieve Long, who lives with her four kids near Lake Conway. Her family continues to complain about health problems and says she’s seen oil sheen in the lake near her property. Lane traveled to Washington, DC, earlier in May to voice concerns about the Mayflower cleanup and to deliver a letter to the State Department opposing construction of the massive Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
“It’s devastating to see what they’ve done to the marsh here, they’ve completely raped it,” she says. “It makes me sad and angry that the health of my family has been impacted … I’m not sure I want my children to live here anymore.”
Others are also worried about lasting impacts to the wildlife in the area. Lynn Slater, executive director of the HAWK Center, a volunteer organization that rehabilitates Arkansas wildlife, helped clean oiled birds and wildlife in the initial days of the spill until Exxon contracted it to an out-of-state firm. According to official tallies, about 200 birds and animals died in cleanup operations connected to the oil spill.
But residents worry there are many more that were never found—and many more animals and migratory birds that have yet to be impacted as a result of extensive tar sands contamination in the marsh. Slater says she will never forget what it was like handling some of the oil soaked birds that were coated in the viscous, black foul-smelling petroleum, a form of oil she had never seen before. And she worries what this heavy crude will do to sensitive lakeshore environments over the long term.
“In my 22 years as a wildlife rehabilitator, I have seen oiled animals, and this was not like any of those animals. This was tarry, it really felt like roofing tar… I have no doubt that this contamination will get into the environment fully. It takes a very long time for this kind of accident to heal itself.”
Many locals who moved here because of Mayflowers' natural beauty agree. Now, more than two months after 5,000 barrels of toxic Canadian tar sands crude poured through this bucolic lakeshore community, the impacts are still being widely felt. Residents have not moved back into their homes in the Northwoods subdivision—ground zero for the flood of tar sands oil that poured into the community. At a recent community meeting in Mayflower this week, many residents expressed their frustration with the cleanup and worried about lingering health impacts many share in the area.
As residents hire lawyers and discuss future legal action, the cause of the accident remains a mystery. The ExxonMobil Pegasus pipeline remains shut down, but the damage has been done. Chuck Johnson, who runs the Hi-Way Landing boathouse on Lake Conway near the oil contaminated marsh, says boat rentals are down this year after the spill because many people don’t want to fish in this part of the lake anymore. And he says he can’t in good conscience tell his customers it’s completely safe. “The sad part of it is we’ve got a lot of kids here who go fishing around here… I tell everybody here that they just have to make up their own minds about fishing because we just don’t really know.”
For now, locals watch and wait as the cleanup in Mayflower continues. Authorities say they have removed most of the tar sands oil in the dozens of acres of marshland impacted by the spill, and they are moving into a remedial cleanup phase to restore the neighborhoods and marshy environment to their pre-spill state. But that seems like a tall order for those still complaining of health problems and contamination in the area more than two months later. They worry about the long term impacts of the toxic tar sands oil, a particularly toxic kind of crude that still plagues Michigan communities along the Kalamazoo River, site of the record-setting Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill nearly three years ago.
Until recently, that was a world away for residents of this small Arkansas town. But it's up close and personal for them now. And it’s raised new concerns about Canadian tar sands projects like the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, a massive 800,000 barrel a day TransCanada proposal to pipe tar sands oil all the way through America's heartland to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. For many Mayflower locals who just want to fish and enjoy the outdoors, it will be a long hot summer full of anxiety about the health of their treasured lakeside paradise, wondering if it will ever be the same.
Visit EcoWatch’s KEYSTONE XL page for more related news on this topic.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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