Mayflower, Arkansas residents face health problems after exposure to tar sands oil, toxic chemicals

Exxon oil spill workers by Subway restaurant photo
© Tar Sands Blockade

When the Exxon Mobil Pegasus pipeline ruptured under the small town of Mayflower, Arkansas, it spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of diluted bitumen -- crude, tar sands oil that had been diluted with a chemical cocktail to make it flow through the pipe more easily -- and exposed nearby residents to toxic chemicals in the air.

Sam Eifling at The Arkansas Times has an excellent report on health problems members of that community are now suffering:

The people who live on the wrong side of the fence that separates homes in Northwoods from the rest of the neighborhood were left to fend for themselves. The Exxon employee who talked to Jarrell might not have been so wrong: Low-level exposure likely would have been a mere nuisance. But that sharp early exposure to the airborne chemicals might've triggered nasty respiratory and digestive symptoms — especially in people who have weaker immune systems. By the time Jarrell and other neighbors got a full account of what they'd been exposed to, the damage was largely done. Now they're stuck with the bills, the uncertainty, and because their exposure has been underplayed, a persistent stigma that they're opportunists looking to exploit Exxon in court. Because who needs to strike oil when you can just strike benzene?

Except that road is an unpleasant one. Jarrell had been suffering headaches for about a month before the oil erupted — a sign, she said, that the 67-year-old pipeline could have been leaking aromatics before it burst wide open — and those only intensified after the spill. It was a month before the community meeting where she first learned the pipe contained more than oil. She and her daughter fled with the baby. Jarrell has remained persistently sick with headaches and nausea; in June her doctor ordered an MRI because her aberrant thyroid levels were consistent with a brain tumor. (It came back negative.) The baby, now almost 8 months old, was diagnosed with a respiratory infection and now uses a steroid inhaler twice daily. His immune response is out of whack. He developed a 102-degree fever after a mosquito bit him. His family is scared witless.

"The oil went to the lake," Jarrell said. "But the toxic fumes came to us."

Read the rest.

This report is part of a joint investigative journalism project between the Arkansas Times and Pulitzer Prize winning InsideClimate News, which was crowdfunded using an campaign.

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