Mayflower Residents Express Concerns About Long-Term Health Risks From Oil Spill
Many residents in Mayflower who live near where an oil pipeline ruptured three months ago are expressing growing frustration with ExxonMobil, along with state and federal officials.
They did not live in the neighborhood where many were evacuated after the oil spill and fear they could suffer long-term health consequences from exposure to the fumes.
Walking through her yard recently, Linda Lynch pointed to where the Pegasus pipeline is buried beneath she and her neighbor's yards and to where crews worked in the months after the March 29 spill.
"It runs right through Robin's backyard, that white house right there, and her front yard, and right across here. They tore her whole fence down and dug her whole yard up and they said that she wasn't inconvenienced so they wouldn't pay her anything," said Lynch.
She and others who live on Snuggs Circle are upset the only residents who were evacuated were those within the Northwoods subdivision and two pregnant women who live nearby.
Lynch’s home is about 300 yards away from the site of the rupture, across a thicket, but said she was not contacted by Mayflower Police, emergency officials, or ExxonMobil.
She didn’t learn about it until about two hours later while at a church on her street.
"We went inside the fellowship hall, which is right behind our church, to start working on our stuff and I walked out of the door and I gasped for breath. I'd been in there like 45 minutes and from the time I walked in to the time I walked back out, in 45 minutes, the air was so thick. I mean, you heard that old saying you could cut it with a knife. It was bad, I mean, you couldn't even take a breath," Lynch said.
That day Barbara Bogard, another resident on her street, had similar problems breathing while at a store less than 100 yards away from the route that more than 100,000 gallons of oil traveled to reach the marsh along Lake Conway.
Bogard recounted a family member’s experience at a town hall meeting in the days after the spill.
"My mother-in-law went up to the meeting. They had a town meeting, and asked a bunch of questions, wanted to know about the health risk and us breathing all of that. They told them, Exxon stood right up there and told everyone that it was fine and to continue on as normal. So we did," said Bogard.
Concerns by the Snuggs Circle residents grew as the days passed and work continued on cleaning up the spill.
Ann Jarrell kept bees in her backyard, about 300 yards away from the site of rupture. She contacted the State Plant Board about concerns over her bees dying.
"They sent someone out that night. We had to wait until night till all the bees are back in the hive and close them in. Then they evacuated them out of the area. So, that should have been a clue to me that maybe I shouldn't be here either," said Jarrell.
She said she's frustrated with the oil company for not being proactive in helping residents despite knowing the dangers present in the air early on.
"Exxon knows what chemical compounds are in their pipelines. They knew that we were being poisoned by the fumes we were breathing in and anyone who could smell that smell should have been evacuated," said Jarrell.
Lynch said there was a growing sense of helplessness as residents independently pursued health care opinions about the potential dangers they were facing.
She called a hotline set up by the Attorney General’s office and was given another number.
"They told me to call the hotline for Exxon. I said 'I've already done that. This number was given out over the TV news and we were told to call this number and I'm calling.' She said, 'well we'll just have to refer you back to the Exxon hotline.' That's all I got out of them," Lynch said.
After weeks of headaches, nausea and chest pressure, Lynch says she went to an emergency room in Little Rock.
"From what I understand, I think she was the head doctor over the ER. (She) came in and informed me that she had called the health department and the health department had told them that there was no danger, we were in no danger of breathing this stuff," said Lynch.
Previously Faulkner County Judge Alan Dodson, Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr and Mayflower Mayor Randy Holland had recommended seeing specialists if people weren’t satisfied with their general practitioners.
Another neighbor, Genieve Long, lives near the cove of Lake Conway where oil pooled after running through storm drains.
She said finding specialists and the financial costs made that a difficult burden.
"As far as I have been informed, there are no specialists in the state of Arkansas that are specialized to deal with these chemicals and the exposure," Long said. "We have to basically contact our doctor and pay a pretty good chunk of change just to get the testing sent down here. And then we, as an individual, have to pay for the lab work. Well, in financial constraints, that's not possible."
All of the residents KUAR spoke with agreed that Exxon Mobil should bear the responsibility of looking into their health concerns.
"Why didn't Exxon set up something for us here for us to go where we wouldn't have to pay for it. You see what I'm saying? Why didn't they take the initiative. If you feel like you are sick from the oil, even though we're telling you you're not going to be sick from it, we've got somebody here to talk to you," said Lynch.
She says groups like the Faulkner County Citizen’s Advisory Group have held numerous well-attended meetings, but no government or Exxon Mobil officials have ever came to listen to concerns.
"Not a one. I haven't seen an Exxon representative, I haven't seen a city official, I haven't seen a county official and they've all been invited," Lynch said.
"We just want things made right. You know, everybody's filing lawsuits, my family hasn't gotten involved in that yet. We're starting to think about it."
Bogard said she feels bewildered about what happened and why they weren’t among residents evacuated and put up in hotels.
"They need to, take... I don't know how to say it, just take care of it, because, the way they did us, come in and lied to us, everyone around here should have been evacuated. Not just this little small area in the subdivision. We're right on the other side of the subdivision. We're breathing it, we didn't have oil run in our yard, but we're breathing it," said Bogard.
ExxonMobil, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, and the Environmental Protection Agency have been conducting air testing and insist levels of chemicals in the air have been safe.
But the residents say other outside groups have told them otherwise and that only time will tell if they were exposed to dangerous levels of toxins leading toward long-term health consequences.