Dispatches From Exxon’s Spill Zone, April 11

Mayflower, AR: In Storm’s Aftermath, Contaminants Continue to Spread

We went out during last night’s thunderstorm and tornado warning to see how the storm would affect the cleanup. Exxon turned on pumps to drain the dammed, blighted cove into the rest of Lake Conway and sent most of their workers home. Early in the storm, we took this video of a lakefront yard being inundated by rising waters. Some residents had already uprooted their entire gardens for fear of eating poisoned veggies.

These waterways eventually connect to the Arkansas river. We found oil slicks in the nearby Bell Slough State Wildlife Management Area:

Oil Slick A11 BellSlough

This photo was taken at Grassy Lake, which is only perennially flooded. Because tar sands bitumen sinks, the extent of the contamination in many of these areas will only be ascertained after the floodwaters drain.

Local Workers Uninformed, Unprotected

The workers we’ve spoken to, including police guarding the scene, uniformly say that Exxon has told them that they are cleaning up “crude oil.” They don’t think they need masks. This is a problem. Over the course of a prolonged exposure, acute symptoms may recede and the smell may become less noticeable, but toxins continue to bio-accumulate.

Here’s a quick breakdown of who these workers are and where they’re coming from. None wear masks except those working at night to spray an unidentified liquid in affected areas and those working at the very epicenter of the poisonous tar sands lake. Those that work directly for Exxon are career spill-responders who travel from negligence to negligence. They tend to be older white males who don’t seem to get their hands dirty often. The Faulkner Sheriff’s Department and various Fish & Wildlife cops are also on the scene. Exxon is also contracting out various parts of the cleanup to the following companies

B & D Field Services http://b-dfieldservices.com/
Hansen Environmental http://www.hansenenviro.com.au/
SWS Environmental http://www.swsenvironmental.com/index.html
ES&H http://www.eshinc.com/esh/
USES http://www.usesgroup.com/

as well as hiring laborers on Craigslist. In other words, the most dangerous work of this cleanup is being done by underemployed locals. Other Mayflower workers are also affected. This photo was taken from a heavily contaminated stream alongside a parking lot containing several shops and restaurants. Employees throughout the plaza said that they experienced symptoms after the spill.


Members of Exxon’s spill team have refused to answer whether these workers are even being provided with the option of wearing masks as they rake tar sands bitumen out of what used to be a riparian zone. No one but supervisors have been allowed to say more than a few words to us.

Those supervisors also refuse to say if workers have access to Material Safety Data Sheets for the compounds to which they’re being exposed. Considering that some of the diluting chemicals in diluted tar sands bitumen are industry-secrets and that workers aren’t even informed about the difference between tar sands and crude, it doesn’t seem likely.

Every member of our crew and the majority of residents we’ve spoken to have experienced symptoms from exposure. These workers aren’t free to tell us what symptoms they’re experiencing, but they are closer to these poisons than anyone. Check out these resources for more information on the special dangers of tar sands and on the health effects of oil spills in general.

Check out the rest of our coverage:

Day 1 – Dispatches from Exxon’s Spill Zone
Days 2 – Dispatches from Exxon’s Spill Zone
Days 3 and 4
Day 5 – The Cover-up Continues

Permanent link to this article: https://tarsandsblockade.org/exxonspill-dispatch-6/