Mayflower Oil Spill: Health Issues Discussed at Town Hall Meeting

Andrew Vines of Johnson & Vines, PLLC, our guest author, continues his series of articles for the benefit of those affected by the Mayflower Oil Spill.

On Monday, April 22, 2013, the Faulkner County Citizens Advisory Group hosted a Town Hall Meeting focusing on the Mayflower Oil Spill and giving residents an opportunity to “voice concerns, ask questions, discuss issues and connect.” Among the many issues discussed were the results of independent air and water testing that has been conducted in the areas affected by the spill, as well as the short and long term health effects of oils spills of this type.

The main points discussed on these issues at the town hall were the following:

  • Any exposure to the odors associated with the oil spill can cause serious short and long-term health problems.
  • Independent air and water testing of the areas affected by the oil spill, as well as an independent analysis of the testing done by State of Arkansas, demonstrate a risk of greater short and long-term health problems than is currently being reported.
  • Experience from previous oil spills shows that long-term health and environmental problems can plague areas well after the area has been deemed “cleaned up.”

Long Term Health Effects

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill was cited as an example of where exposure to the toxic chemicals associated with crude oil caused long-term health problems. In that case, most of the people exposed were oil spill clean up workers who worked without respirators or other protective equipment. These workers suffered a number of long-term health problems, many of which did not appear until years after the accident.

Speakers at the town hall also discussed various other issues that arise in the course of the clean-up of an oil spill, with one speaker even stating that there was no such thing as a true clean-up of an oil spill, merely a “response” to one. The reason for this is that, in addition to the fact that all of the toxins released as a result of an oil spill cannot be completely eliminated from the atmosphere (many of which remain harmful even at low levels), the process of dispersing spilled oil is often more hazardous than the oil spill itself.

According to one speaker, dispersants are really do nothing more than dilute the oil, rendering it un-seeable even though it (and especially the toxins associated with it) are still present in the environment. Moreover, the worst of these toxins (called PAHs) do not break down easily and can build up in the body over time—even if they cannot be seen or smelled (or detected by certain types of testing that is not designed to detect PAHs). Reports and images from the Gulf Oil Spill and the Kalamazoo Oil Spill were also cited, sometimes in graphic detail, as examples of the serious long-term health effects that can result from oil spills.

Results of Independent Testing

Scott Smith of OPFlex Solutions and April Lane of the Greenbrier Citizens Advisory Council reported on the results of air and water testing they conducted both in the days following the oil spill and as recently as the week of April 15, 2013.

Ms. Lane noted that air testing the day following the spill showed very high levels of airborne toxic substances in the affected area (including past the areas where residents were evacuated), and she noted numerous reports of individuals complaining of symptoms commonly associated with exposure to the toxins found in crude oil, including headaches, eye irritation, nose and throat irritation, lung irritation, respiratory problems, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, confusion and lack of muscle coordination. She and other speakers noted that many residents who should have been evacuated were not, and it was noted at the town hall meeting that anyone who could smell the odors associated with the spill should have been evacuated.

Mr. Smith reported on the results of water testing that he has conducted periodically since the spill, and he noted that his testing indicated contamination both in the area of the marsh and cove where the oil was directed following the spill and, most significantly, in Lake Conway itself in an area approaching the dam. He was critical of the testing being performed by the state and Exxon, as he claims that their testing methods only took readings from the top of the water and the bottom, as opposed to the important “water column,” or the main body of water between the top and bottom of the lake.

Other Important Issues Discussed at the Town Hall

Other important issues discussed and advice given by speakers and participants at the town hall meeting included:

  • Advice to residents who were exposed to the odors associated from the oil spill, or who experienced health effects following the oil spill, to seek treatment by an occupational and environmental medicine (OEM) doctor trained to detect the issues associated with toxic exposure.
  • As OEM doctors may not be available, and as other doctors may not be trained to detect the issues associated with toxic exposure, residents were advised to keep a “symptom log” of times when they smelled odor from the oil spill or clean up operations and, even if they did not smell odor, any physical symptoms they experienced while in the oil spill area.
  • In the absence of treatment by a healthcare professional for symptoms associated with exposure to the oil spill, which was recommended if at all possible, residents were advised to contact Poison Control to report their symptoms.
  • If Exxon or state officials advise that it is safe for residents to return to their homes, residents should ask for PAH testing to be performed in their home.

Johnson & Vines, PLLC is working with Hare Wynn Newell & Newton in representing individuals who have been affected by the Mayflower Oil Spill. For additional information, please contact us at 501-372-1300 or at info@johnsonvines.com.

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