Community members are rejecting ExxonMobil's claim that tar sands crude hasn't reached Lake Conway, while a chemist is warning that toxic emissions in the wake of the March 29 pipeline rupture that spewed over 200,00 gallons of heavy crude in Mayflower, Arkansas are making people sick.
On Friday, ExxonMobil continued to issue statements that "Water sampling confirms that the main body of Lake Conway and Palarm Creek remain oil-free."
Not so, say community members and independent tests.
Scott Smith, CEO of oil spill cleaning products company Opflex Solutions, did preliminary water tests on the lake and said Monday, "I have found methylene chloride and barium in concentrations indicative of tar sands oil."
He also warned that "the tar sands are not only in Lake Conway, but are moving beyond Lake Conway and toward the Arkansas River."
Smith said preliminary findings indicate the presence of tar sands oil in Lake Conway, both in "the cove" of Lake Conway and in the larger lake beyond the cove.
Chemist and environmental activist Wilma Subra, who cautioned that health effects following the 2010 Gulf oil disaster were greater and longer lasting than reported, added further warnings that toxic chemicals, including the carcinogen benzene, are in the air following the Mayflower spill and are making residents sick.
"There's a population all around that's been made very, very sick by the emissions," she said.
Warning of the message-controlling that oil companies orchestrate following spills, she said, "The people have to have a voice and tell them what they expect because this is the people's community."
John Hammons, who lives in "the Cove" across from Lake Conway said that his wife, who is seven months pregnant, has "broken out in hives, had nose bleeds, (and) respiratory problems."
And many residents are concerned about their health and well-being. Sherry Appleman and her husband have lived along Lake Conway in their dream house for the past dozen years, enjoying the idyllic fishing and wildlife environment until their lives suddenly were turned upside down after the spill. Sherry says they both have been sick, and she hasn’t been able to get adequate information about potential health and wildlife impacts. She doesn’t trust assurances from Exxon or government officials that the air and water are safe.
"I fell asleep with my bedroom window open, woke up in the middle of night because couldn’t breathe and was up the rest of the night because was trying to catch my breath and immediately close the window. Then went to check on my husband because my husband has lung cancer he was just diagnosed in January. He was extremely ill and has been ever since this started…I think Exxon should do everything to make everybody in this community whole to the best of their ability. I think they should be held accountable by the government and by the public. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon."
The ExxonMobil gusher has made many residents painfully aware of the hazards of oil pipelines, especially those that carry toxic tar sands oil from the boreal forests of Alberta through communities like Mayflower and to massive chemical refineries in the Gulf. That’s true for Northwoods resident Chris Harrell, who lives only a block away from the Pegasus pipeline break. Like many, he wonders what long-term health problems his family may develop or how they will be compensated.
“We’re frustrated, exhausted and overwhelmed and tired of messing with this…there’s been so little solid information about what will happen. Exxon has not been forthcoming about what kind of timeframes we are dealing with, whether it’s two months or two years.”
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