LITTLE ROCK, AK – While officials for ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) claim that the worst of the environmental damage has been contained following a pipeline burst in March, residents in the sleepy town of Mayflower insist that they are still suffering health problems from the accident. The spill released more than 200,000 gallons of oil directly in the community, first flowing through a residential neighborhood, then into culverts and a creek near the town’s shopping center. Eventually, the oil settled into a marshy area of a nearby lake where it remains buried in sediment.
Although cleanup work has almost stopped, the sickly sweet odor of crude still permeates the community after it rains and residents living nearest to a cove where most of the oil has collected have complained of health problems such as headaches, nausea, and vomiting. That cove is linked to Lake Conway, a spot famous for bluegill and bass fishing.
In interviews with reporters, Mayflower resident Sherry Appleman said that she has been afflicted with headaches and asthma like conditions since the spill. According to Appleman, ‘Our health conditions have gotten worse, people with cancer have gotten worse instead of getting better….the local health department says everything’s normal, but they’re just saying what Exxon wants them to say.’ Appleman also attributed the spill on worsening her husband’s condition following cancer treatment – her husband passed away in June.
State authorities maintain that the oil has not leaked into the main body of Lake Conway, but many who live near the lake disagree stating that oil-contaminated water has been seen in ditches that drain into the lake. Chemist Wilma Subra, who has studied the effect of exposure to oil following the BP (NYSE:BP) oil spill has also been following the effect of the Mayflower spill. According to Subra, rainfall can flush oil out for the sediment, allowing toxic chemicals to be released into the air. ‘Rainfall events can cause the crude oil to float to the surface and cause health effects, it’s typical of what can occur at waste sites like these,’ Subra says. ‘They should have evacuated more of the population to stop the exposure.’ The effects of the spill have also been noticed in children living near the lake including coughing and asthma.
While officials maintain the air and water are safe, testing continues, and many locals do not believe what they are saying. In the aftermath, several residents have tried to sell their homes, but given the recent situation there are few buyers.