High levels of 30 toxic chemicals were present in air samples taken in Mayflower, Ark., the day after a breach in ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline allowed an estimated 5,000 barrels of chemically treated tar sands oil to flood a suburban neighborhood. A month after the spill, health complaints consistent with exposure to the chemicals from the air samples persist, according to the citizen-based Faulkner County Citizens Advisory Group.
April Lane, a spokeswoman for the advisory group, has been collecting reports and documenting health complaints from people living in the area of the oil spill, where potent oil fumes could be smelled for days.
“Even four weeks later, residents are still feeling symptoms from the chemical exposure. People have consistently talked about gastrointestinal problems, headaches, respiratory problems, skin irritation including chemical burns, and extreme fatigue,” Ms. Lane said in a news release. Toxins found in the independent air tests are known to cause these symptoms.
Dr. Neil Carman of the Lone Star Chapter of Sierra Club and former Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said that each of the 30 hydrocarbons found in the ambient air samples on its own “may pose a threat to human health” depending on exposure and other factors. Combined, she said, the chemicals formed a “toxic soup” that Mayflower residents have been breathing.
Diluted bitumen or “dilbit” for short, is much more toxic to humans and the environment than raw crude oil, such as that which spilled into the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of BP’s Deepwater Horizon explosion. Dilbit is formed by treating Canadian tar sands with dozens of highly toxic additives to make it move fluidly through the pipeline. When spilled, however, dilbit is notoriously difficult and expensive to clean up.
When an Enbridge oil pipeline ruptured in Michigan in July 2010, it spilled 20,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands oil and toxic chemicals into the Kalamazoo River and other waterways. Nearly three years later, that spill is still not cleaned up.