Anyone who is unconvinced of the devastating long-term effects of industrial accidents should consider the case of the Exxon Valdez. Now that a quarter of a century has passed, it is easy to see the ongoing impact of this type of disaster. Indeed, the effects of the Valdez spill, which occurred off the coast of Alaska, are being felt to this very day. About the Exxon Valdez Spill The Exxon Valdez was a 987-foot tanker with a capacity to hold up to 53 million gallons of crude oil. Just after midnight on March 24, 1989, the tanker crashed into Bligh Reef near Prince William Sound. It only took a few hours for nearly 11 million gallons of crude to be released into the water. Winds and water currents quickly carried the oil, and it ultimately spread out to affect an area of more than 1,300 square miles. Several factors were ultimately found to be to blame for the spill, but it was mostly attributed to the fact that the captain and other crew members had been drinking heavily and were not following required safety procedures or taking the necessary precautions. In other words, this industrial accident was purely due to human error and was completely avoidable. Unfortunately, that is often the case with industrial accidents, which is why an industrial accident lawyer is so necessary. Effects are Still Being Felt The world sprang into action immediately following the Exxon Valdez accident, so it would seem that the spill should have been cleaned up quickly and things should have returned to normal in the area within a reasonable amount of time. However, it has not panned out that way. In fact, the area and its wildlife continue to feel the effects of the spill. 25 years later, there are still many signs that a major incident occurred here, including:
- Sea Otters – It’s been estimated that nearly 3,000 sea otters perished immediately following the disaster. Hundreds more died in the years right after it occurred. It is only been in the last few years that populations of sea otters have returned to pre-spill levels. The Valdez spill was the largest of its kind in U.S. waters until the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, which gives an idea of what kind of impact that more recent disaster will have on the area in which it occurred.
- Fishermen – Local fishermen were forced to head for greener pastures following the spill, as the price of fish plummeted. To this day, local fisheries are not anywhere near the shape they were in prior to the spill, and there is no telling when or if they will completely recover.
- Pacific Herring – Sadly, the population of Pacific herring plummeted right after the accident, and the species is still classified as “not recovering.” Experts are not sure why the species has not completely recovered yet but suspect that it still struggles to find enough to eat.
- Pigeon Guillemots – This unique species of pigeon-like birds was already struggling prior to the accident. Many believe the accident hastened its demise. The birds’ eggs were likely targeted by sea otters and other critters. To this very day, this species’ numbers continue to dwindle.
The one silver lining, if there even is one, is that the industry is better prepared to cope with incidents like these. The Alyeska Pipeline Service Company now has considerably more resources that it can use to respond to such spills, and major spill drills are conducted twice a year. Hundreds of local fishermen are also trained to help respond quickly to such incidents. As with chemical plant accidents, these types of environmental disasters demand swift responses by qualified professionals. Those whose lives are affected should retain competent an industrial accident attorney to ensure their rights are protected as well.