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