The media seem to have forgotten, but just a few months ago a tar sands pipeline owned by Exxon Mobil ruptured in the middle of Mayflower, Arkansas. The sleepy little town was immediately drowning in a lake of toxic crude. It covered lawns and seeped into the street. Twenty-two families were forced to evacuate their homes.
Despite its obvious culpability, Exxon fought tooth and nail to hide the extent of the oil spill from the public. As the story faded from headlines, the company claimed clean-up efforts were well underway. Things must have gone swimmingly, because a few weeks ago, the company declared all was well, and housing reimbursement payments made to the victims were about to come to an abrupt stop–whether residents wanted to move home yet or not.
“It’s horrible,” Mayflower resident Amber Bartlett told Inside Climate News. Bartlett’s home on North Starlite is half a block from the source of the spill. “They want us to go back now. We’re not comfortable with that, because no one really knows if long-term health effects are linked to exposure to this.”
Initially, Exxon had agreed to reimburse displaced residents for up to six months of housing costs. When local politicians found out about the company’s sudden attempt to bully people back into their contaminated homes by September 1st, they publicly voiced concerns. Since the only thing Exxon hates more than environmental regulations is bad press, the company almost instantly backed off.
“Each resident is going to be different,” said Exxon spokesman Aaron Stryk. “We’re going to work with them to meet their individual needs. If they need more time, we’ll look at each individual situation and find the best solution.”
For many Mayflower residents, the best solution is to abandon their homes altogether. Several have made deals to sell their homes to Exxon, rather than run the risk of living in a poisoned building.