Happy 23rd anniversary, Exxon Valdez: thanks for schooling us on Enbridge!
Clean up workers suffered lung damage, memory loss, cancer and other ailments. Two dozen sued Exxon. Some cases settled and others were dismissed by the court. During the clean up itself, nearly half the people had a respiratory illness known as the “Valdez crud” which many believe was due to the toxic fumes and clean-up chemicals.
In the fishing town of Cordova, Exxon clean up money seemed randomly distributed in a manner that jumbled social roles and divided the community. Some people overspent the “dirty money” and ended up bankrupt or died while waiting for the court case against Exxon to conclude. (That case ended in the US Supreme Court which ordered $500 million in damages. Exxon’s appeals of the original $5 billion judgment took twenty years.) Several residents, including a former mayor, committed suicide. More than 40 percent of the men had symptoms of severe depression six years after the spill. During that time, Cordova went from being the ninth leading port in the nation for commercial fish harvest to the 51st. Ten years after the spill between 50 and 65 percent of the fishermen told surveyors they had medical and emotional problems. Most people felt the town had not yet recovered from the spill. Gulf of Mexico residents are experiencing similar emotional impacts from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Steven Picou, a sociology professor at the University of South Alabama in Mobile studies and compares the fallout from natural vs. technological disasters. He has found that natural disasters arouse empathy and pull communities together, while man-made disasters rip communities apart.
Money can’t buy new ecosystems
No one knows how many animals died outright from the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The carcasses of more than 35,000 birds and 1,000 sea otters were found after the spill, but since most carcasses sink, this is considered to be a small fraction of the actual death toll. The best estimates are: 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, up to 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon and herring eggs.
Pacific herring and pigeon guillemots species do not show signs of recovery twenty three years after the oil spill. Species that have not recovered after twenty three years but show substantive progress are clams, mussels, sea otters, killer whales (one pod that uses the area is recovering, the other one is not), harlequin ducks, black oystercatchers and Barrow’s goldeneye ducks. Species that have met recovery objectives are bald eagles, common loons, common murres, cormorants, Dolly Varden trout, harbor seals, pink and sockeye salmon and river otters. Not enough information exists to know if whether the Kittlitz’s and marbled murrelets are recovering.
Twenty-five years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, nine species are not fully recovered and some species such as herring and pigeon guillemots may never recover. One of the two orca pods in the area is slowly dying out.
What do we do to protect our coast in BC?
BC organizations are creating great events and a growing number of people are showing up to make clear that they really care about what happens to the BC coast, that they want it safe from tankers, that they support the First Nations who have both the strongest rights and the most to lose; and that they see protecting the coast as everyone’s responsibility. Sign a petition (easy!), storm Christy Clark’s riding, write a comment letter to the Northern Gateway JRP and sign up for notification of events to attend.