|Spilt oil from Exxon pipeline run through North Woods Subdivision in Mayflower, Arkansas, March 29, 2013.|
For her entire life, 28-year old Genieve Long has called Mayflower home. But ever since an Exxon pipeline ruptured in late March 2013, dumping thousands of barrels worth of toxic crude oil onto the Arkansas town, Mayflower has come to feel more like a prison.
“I live next door to the house that I was raised in,” Long told msnbc. “This was a place I wanted to raise my kids in. And I’m afraid to raise them in it now, because of their health, because of what can happen to them.”
Like many Mayflower residents, Long and her four children continue to suffer from chronic respiratory issues, even nine months after Exxon officially wound down its emergency response. The symptoms show no signs of letting up, and many of Long’s former neighbors have abandoned the town. Nobody can say for sure whether Mayflower will ever fully recover.
“It’s going to be very difficult to clean up the soil and the area so that it is completely safe to reoccupy,” said Dave Lincoln, an environmental consultant and board member for the Arkansas Sierra Club. “How long that bitumen will stay in the soil, we don’t really have any examples of that getting cleaned up entirely.”
Mayflower is now coming to grips with the real legacy of ecological disasters: long after the initial state of emergency ends and the national media stops paying attention, the blight remains. The same fate could well await much of West Virginia, where a major chemical spill left 300,000 residents without usable running water last week. That particular spill released an indeterminate amount of the chemical MCHM into the state’s Elk River, and experts are unsure of the long-term consequences for public health. In Mayflower, the consequences of consistent exposure to crude shale oil are still developing. MORE