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Heavy metals found in diluted bitumen are a major concern with any such spill.
These compounds, which include mercury, manganese, nickel and chromium, are toxic at high doses. Some, such as arsenic and lead, can damage the human nervous system even at relatively low doses.
Genieve Long, a 28-year-old mother and full-time college student who has lived next to Lake Conway all of her life, patrols the lake regularly. She is suspicious of the testing done by ExxonMobil and state authorities, she said, because she doesn't think they are testing lake channels where she is sure currents carried oil connected with the spill.
Oil had time to breach the Highway 89 dike before Johnson and other workers built barricades and blocked the pair of culverts, Long said.
"I have a very good knowledge of what goes on in the lake," she said. "My father was a fisherman who taught me about fish and currents. I'm not trying to cause trouble. I'm trying to make problems go away. I'm concerned about the environment and about people's health, and that they aren't getting the attention they need."
Long said she felt rebuffed by ADEQ officials when she told them several times that she had observed oil near the cove where her family lives.
"They told me it was nothing to worry about, that it's just natural organisms decomposing," she said. "I know the difference between what I'm seeing and what I've seen all of my life. I have fished this lake, played in this lake, even waded out in it when I was a kid. I know what this lake looked like before the spill."
In 1948, the state Game and Fish Commission built what is now officially known as the Craig D. Campbell Lake Conway Reservoir by damming Palarm Creek. It's the largest lake ever created by a state conservation agency, and it fueled a real estate boomlet in Conway and Mayflower.
While the main body of the lake could be free of oil from the Pegasus spill, oil did reach the cove. Early on, authorities installed sets of absorbent booms and weirs that went from the surface of the water to the soil below to isolate as much oil as possible. While water tests in the cove have revealed that levels of heavy metals are below levels of concern, Benefield said the ADEQ won't know how successful the cleanup efforts have been there until results of the sediment testing are available.
Cleanups of heavily oiled sites can be massive, intensive and expensive. A Canadian-owned pipeline operator, Enbridge Inc., ended up dredging and then rebuilding an entire creek in Marshall, Mich., after a burst pipeline spewed at least a million gallons of diluted bitumen into wetlands along the Kalamazoo River in 2010. That cleanup is ongoing because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that as much as 180,000 gallons of oil remain in the river today.
The cove was upgraded from the response stage to the remediation stage about a month ago, Benefield said. Long-term remediation, headed by the ADEQ, requires ExxonMobil to design an investigation plan ensuring that no oil is left behind. It calls for multiple rounds of sampling in the lake, the cove and the rest of the spill's path.
Benefield said his agency still works closely with Nicolas Brescia, the EPA's on-scene coordinator, as it proceeds with the cleanup. Brescia, based at the EPA's Region 6 Office in Dallas, is no longer at the Mayflower site full time. Brescia said he participates in weekly conference calls with all of the cleanup authorities to monitor progress.
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