Exxon's oil spill cover-up deepens

April 16, 2013

The report below is reprinted from Tar Sands Blockade on the oil giant Exxon-Mobil's recent oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas. The spill of tar sands bitumen has led to the evacuation of dozens of homes in this small community just north of the state capital of Little Rock. Visit the site for up-to-date reports on the spill.

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As spill estimates are being revised to near 300,000 gallons, we have been hearing very disturbing reports about Exxon’s continued focus on PR damage control rather than actual damage control.

At every turn they are attempting to obfuscate the truth even if it means endangering the health of workers, residents and the ecosystem.

We have reported how they power-washed bitumen into a nearby wetland and then paid local sheriffs to keep cameras away — hiding the problem at the expense of the local watershed and everyone who relies on it for drinking water, hunting and fishing.

During the day, workers and police are not wearing masks. We have spoken to several workers who had no idea that they were dealing with tar sands bitumen instead of crude oil. None were willing to talk further or go on the record.

At night, according to reports from several residents, workers wear full protective suits.

Something is wrong here. There are two possibilities, both alarming.

1. Workers are wearing protective suits at night because they are spraying toxic dispersants. We also have independent reports from multiple residents that workers are spraying something, but only at night. They also report that the smell is different and more intense while this is happening.

2. Exxon is knowingly exposing its workers to carcinogenic and teratogenic compounds, without their full knowledge or consent, in order to create a media fiction in which this spill is minor enough to not even require full hazmat gear.

Air quality testing trucks from Center for Environmental Health (CEH) are only on scene during the day, when residents say that the air is better anyway because of higher winds and when the alleged dispersal-spraying isn’t happening.

More than a dozen of the residents we’ve spoken to, as well as all five members of our film crew, have experienced a range of symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, gut-aches, burning throat, lethargy, nausea, and body-aches. These workers are in closer proximity to the spill for longer periods of time.

We also have reports that Exxon is secretly removing dead fish from the lake at night. A resident saw a crew of workers in a boat near their property, trolling the lake with nets. Each net that came up, the resident said, held at least a dozen dead fish.

Exxon originally claimed that Lake Conway had not been polluted because most of the tar sands bitumen ended up in a cove which is separated from the larger Lake Conway by a small earthen road bridge.

This was absurd. Residents along that cove have considered it part of Lake Conway for years. Their deeds say that they have lake-front property on Lake Conway. The two bodies of water are fully hydrologically connected.

Later, authorities admitted that the larger Lake Conway had also been affected.

Now, residents along the cove are concerned about the possibility of flooding as a large storm is set to come through. The earthen road bridge, shown below, sometimes allows flow but has been dammed to contain the bitumen.

Residents say that even when this dam is open, the cove (now full of tar sands bitumen) floods all the way up to their door in a big storm. It remains to be seen whether this dam will exacerbate the flooding, but there’s no doubt that a heavy rain would complicate the cleanup and cause contaminants to spread further.

Meanwhile, Exxon continues to fill these huge fracking waste containers with recovered tar sands bitumen and contaminated water. They don’t seem to be airtight; or at least the smell is worse in their vicinity and people are starting to get sick in those areas as well.

No word on where they plan on disposing of the poisonous stuff, but it is entirely possible that they plan on shipping it to a refinery for immediate sale at a gas station near you.

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