Residents in Mayflower, Arkansas, the site of the recent Pegasus tar sands pipeline rupture, have filed suit against pipeline operator Exxon for health issues and property damage that have arisen since the spill.
Those affected by the pipeline’s spill have complained of numerous, though mild, health problems including headaches, nausea, and breathing difficulties. While these symptoms are relatively mild, it should be noted that it has only been a month since the spill, and more severe problems are likely to creep up in the coming months.
The main concern is that the neurotoxins and carcinogens within the tar sands, particularly those contained in the diluted bitumen (dilbit), will plague the residents for years to come.
From the text of the lawsuit filing:
The release of the spilled oil caused an extensive and nationally publicized evacuation of people from their homes and other real property on Easter Weekend. The oil contaminated real property and migrated into water sources. The noxious odors and toxic fumes coming from the spilled oil and open pipeline, were inhaled by residents of the Northwoods neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods and communities in Mayflower, Arkansas. The chemicals in crude oil are particularly harmful to humans. Some of the chemicals are neurotoxins, which means they affect the brain. These chemicals are particularly dangerous to children and their brain development. Toxins from crude oil can be absorbed through the skin and lungs. Dizziness, nausea, blurry vision and headaches are some of the short term effects from exposure to crude oil chemicals. There are also long term effects from crude oil chemicals, such as benzene, which have been tied to leukemia and other cancers…
Even after clean-up efforts, Defendants were unable to capture all of the released toxic crude and bitumen. Estimates indicate that thousands of gallons of released toxic crude oil and bitumen were not recovered and remain in the ground, ground water and community of Mayflower.
The suit alleges that Exxon was negligent in their operation of the pipeline, and that the spill itself violated the Arkansas Solid Waste Management Act, a law that prohibits the release of toxic substances, including oil, into the environment. Plaintiffs also allege that Exxon failed to keep up with inspections, safety monitoring, and other safety checks that were necessary to ensure the safe operation of the Pegasus pipeline.
Another complaint in the lawsuit is that Exxon did not shut down the pipeline to stop the flow of oil onto property in a timely manner, as they had promised and demonstrated in their “worst case scenario” procedures. The result is that their failure to do what they had sworn to do (shut down the pipeline in the event of a spill) resulted in more toxic oil being released.
The hope of residents is that the lawsuit will force the federal government to take a closer look at the regulation of pipelines carrying dilbit and tar sands. However, a civil suit is unlikely to address this issue with the federal and state governments. The next step for the residents, if stricter standards are their goal, would be to file suit against federal watchdog agencies for failing to adequately assess and report the dangers associated with tar sands and the exposure threats they pose to citizens. Such a suit certainly has merit, and as more and more pipelines start popping up across America, a suit like this could finally force the government’s hand and spark some meaningful regulatory discussion.