While Mayflower, AR, residents may beg to differ, long-term physical effects, if any, should be “minimal” among a demographic briefly exposed to raw oil spilled from ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline in late March, state health officials said.
Dr. Bill Mason, chief of the Arkansas Department of Health’s emergency preparedness branch, addressed media outlets as a panelist among representatives with the Mayflower Incident Unified Command Joint Information Center during a press conference held at Mayflower City Hall.
“Since the evacuation happened so rapidly … we are not seeing any acute health effects,” Mason said. “We feel the threat of acute effect is very minimal.”
Officials said they removed about 95 percent of oil spilled in Northwoods Subdivision. Agencies are working in phases to re-introduce displaced residents to their homes in the coming days. Once they remove the oil from the area, Mason said, very few, if any health effects of a chronic nature should occur. Toxic effects end up determined by concentration and the time of exposure, Mason said, and with individuals evacuated quickly, there should be no impact on the public’s health.
Mason reported air quality monitoring samples have shown a daily decrease in toxicity levels at the site and ADH has determined that phased re-entry to the homes can begin. The cause of the spill is still under investigation.
Karen Tyrone, on-scene coordinator with ExxonMobil, said the company “cannot and will not know” the cause of the rupture until 22-feet of affected pipeline has been excavated and sent to a laboratory for analysis, a project that should occur shortly.
Tyrone said the company initiated a complete shutdown of the pipeline within minutes of detection of the spill. Ensuring the integrity of the pipeline as it runs is “a main objective,” Tyrone said, calling the pipeline’s preventative maintenance measures “pretty comprehensive.”
ExxonMobil can monitor the pipeline via instrumentation and sophisticated tools placed inside the pipeline that are pushed through by oil. The instruments serve to measure any corrosion, small dents and cracks, Tyrone said, and return data to the company’s operation control center in Houston, TX, where it ends up monitored and analyzed. Tyrone said it is the company’s intent to cover the cost of the incident. They will also honor claims by residents regarding concerns over re-entry to their homes, she said.
“We are confident that we can restore that neighborhood to the beauty that it was,” Tyrone said.
Agencies are only giving residents the option to return to their homes, she said, and ExxonMobil will continue to pay short-term living expenses for those who choose not to return to their homes. Agencies reported in-home and outdoor air quality monitoring will continue as residents move back in to their homes.