U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin Monday called Gov. Mike Beebe‘s office to suggest the state pursue further health assessments for residents of Mayflower affected by the March 29 oil spill.
Griffin promised to call the governor after meeting with constituents in the parking lot of Stroud’s Country Diner in Mayflower earlier in the day. There, several residents who have complained of persistent health problems since spill urged the Republican congressman to help them get better assessment and treatment.
“We have all been sick,” said Linda Lynch, whose home is some 300 yards from the rupture site. “I feel like we’re all like dogs chasing our tails around here. And we are sick of it. … We need help.”
Griffin told her he’d call the governor and convey their wishes. “I’ll do whatever,” Griffin says. “I know [the governor] cares. And he has some resources with the department of health that my office does not have.”
Beebe’s spokesman Matt DeCample confirmed later in the afternoon that Griffin called and spoke with the governor’s chief of staff, Morril Harriman, about exploring a further response from the health department. DeCample said the governor’s office would be discussing the matter with the health department.
Residents’ suggestions to Griffin included a mobile clinic where they could see a specialist in chemical exposure-related illnesses, and an independent community health assessment to determine how widely people in Mayflower were affected by the spill, in which 210,000 gallons of heavy crude burst out of ExxonMobil‘s Pegasus pipeline.
People from 22 houses in the path of the running oil were under mandatory evacuation after the spill. Meanwhile dozens and perhaps hundreds of other residents were likely exposed to known carcinogens that aerosolized and circulated in the air around the spill.
The Unified Command of local, state, federal and ExxonMobil representatives determined that the levels of those chemicals were too low to warrant further evacuations. But residents have complained that they suffered immediate symptoms — such as headaches, blurred vision, diarrhea, nausea and dizziness — that for some have persisted during the clean-up.
“There’s no way to clearly identify the total effect on the community without assessing that community, and that has not been done,” Emily Harris, a volunteer with the Faulkner County Citizens Advisory Group, told Griffin.
She posted a detailed proposal on just how to do that on the Facebook event page for the meeting Monday morning, which was one of Griffin’s “Sweet Tea with Tim” confabs with constituents. About 50 people showed up, mostly to grill Griffin on Obamacare, immigration reform and defense spending. Under a small canopy in the brutally hot parking lot, staffers served sweet and unsweet tea in plastic cups.
Among those in attendance was Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson, the head of Unified Command. Asked how he thought the response to the spill might have improved upon, he was at a loss. “I’m not sure that if we had to do it again that we could do it as well,” he said.
Griffin did mix it up a bit with Hendrix College Young Democrat Robert Taylor, who tried to challenge the Congressman on a House vote that affected oil sands taxes. “If you want to get in an argument,” Griffin said, “just set up a meeting in my office.” Taylor and two fellow Hendrix Young Democrats walked away and returned with protest posters — “Tim Griffin Brought To You By ExxonMobil” — and, standing a respectful distance from the scrum, held signs and sipped their tea under the midday sun.