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    Remember, Oil Companies Are Spilling Toxic Stuff Literally Every Day

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Image: Flickr

    At this point, we can only assume that Exxon Mobil is tring its hand at a slapstick comedy routine: just as it was scrambling to clean up the Arkansas town it just dumped oil all over, it slipped and spilled a bunch of hazardous chemicals in Louisiana. Reporters could neither confirm nor deny the presence of an ensuing sad trombone sound. 

    Coast Guard Petty Officer Jason Screws, did, however, tell the New Orleans Times-Picayune that "ExxonMobil first reported releasing 100 pounds of hydrogen sulfide and 10 pounds of benzene, a volatile organic carbon compound known to cause cancer, because those amounts are the minimum required for reporting. But the company has since said it is unsure exactly what chemicals were involved or how much may have been released."

    Apparently, Exxon wasn't going to tell anybody anything, but the spill started stinking so badly that New Orleans residents—who, by the way, are used to tolerating the flood of unpleasant odors emitted by nearby oil refineries and shipping lanes—took it upon themselves to investigate.

    It turned out that nope, it wasn't just the nasty oil refining process or pollution-belching export biz as per usual. It was Exxon dumping a bunch of cancer-causing chemicals all over the place. 

    Of course, this sort of thing always happens—the public only hears about these smaller accidents in the wake of a higher-profile oil spill. After the BP spill, you'll recall, reporters were chasing down all sorts of smaller accidents, and it was suddenly news that underwater oil wells leaked. Then a couple years went by and nobody cared again. 

    Yet if Exxon goes and looses a river of sludge through Arkansas, though, suddenly word of a comparatively tiny chemical spill is a hot news item—it was Grist's most popular story on Facebook yesterday. The tiny spill, not the river of sludge. Which is great, because those tiny spills are sloshing out all the time, and nobody really notices.

    That's what the public needs to internalize—these companies are spilling and leaking chemicals and oil somewhere around the nation with a depressing regularity. Every week, if not every day. The United Steelworkers Union tries to compile a list of weekly accidents (not all are reported by the oil companies) at refineries alone, and there are usually more than a dozen per digest. Expand your scope worldwide, and you're getting multiple oil spills a day—and often, spills that are exponentially worse than any that ever happen here.

    So just remember that. There is almost certainly an American chemical or oil spill happening or being cleaned up right now. It's just part of the deal; part of our reliance on oil for transportation and as a feedstock for plastic. We have alternatives, and we will eventually turn to them, whether by choice or by necessity. But for now, let the chemical sludge spill. We are addicted to what's destroying us. And for the time being, it's going to stink, fry the globe, and sear our lungs.