Evaluating pipeline safety is the business of engineers and scientists, but evaluating the human cost of transporting hazardous materials near people’s homes is best left to those who’ve experienced the fallout.
Homeowners shared their experiences with industry insiders at the New Orleans Pipeline Safety Trust conference in New Orleans late last month.
On March 29, Exxon's Pegasus pipeline burst in Mayflower, Arkansas, releasing up to 7,000 barrels of diluted bitumen. That's where Ann Jarrell and her family lived, just outside the evacuation zone set by government officials — a zone she believes was too small because it didn’t reflect the fact the pipeline was carrying diluted bitumen, which is more toxic then crude oil.
Bitumen is diluted with a mixture of undisclosed toxic emulsifiers to help it flow through pipelines — a factor homeowners, government officials and first responders appear to often be left in the dark about.
On the day of the spill, Jarrell's daughter Jennifer, who lived in her house with her infant son, suggested they leave because of the smell. She learned in school that in the case of a spill, if you can hear it, see it, smell it or touch it, you need to leave the area immediately. Jarrell called the local police and asked about evacuating. She was told if there wasn’t oil on her land, she didn't need to leave her home. So Jarrell and her family stayed. But, she told the room full of industry insiders, “I should have listened to my daughter.”
Ann Jarrell, Homeowner from Mayflower, Arkansas ©2013 Julie Dermansky