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Helping oil spill impacted communities by FIONA MCLEOD June 10,2021   |  Source: Earth Island Journal

On March 23, 1989, marine toxicologist Riki Ott gave a talk to the Valdez, Alaska Mayor’s Committee about the impact of oil spills on ocean ecosystems. Using crepe paper creatures and magnets, she showed how oil droplets move up the food web when fish consume tiny crustaceans that are contaminated with oil particles.

Ott’s message to the committee was clear: As long as oil was being shipped through the region, the health and well-being of people and the environment there were in danger. The city of Valdez needed to develop a viable contingency plan to be able to respond in the event of an oil disaster. “It is not a matter of if,” she told the committee, “but when.”

The very next day, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in the Prince William Sound, spilling between 11 million gallons (Exxon’s estimate) and 33 million gallons (the State of Alaska’s estimate) of crude oil. The spill — which at the time was the worst oil spill in US history — affected some 1,300 miles of coastline; killed hundreds of thousands of birds, seals, otters, fish, and whales; and collapsed the fishing economies of shoreline towns. Nearby communities, including Valdez, were exposed to dangerously high levels of toxins, both from the oil itself and from the toxic chemical

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