Exxon Valdez - Legacy of a Spill

May 13, 1999

Legacy of a Spill: Stories | Illustrations | Photos

Exxon Valdez
Legacy of a Spill

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EDITOR'S NOTE: The Daily News begins four days of special coverage today on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The March 24, 1989, spill was one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. Within hours of the grounding, at least 11 million gallons gushed through the hull of the damaged tanker and into the famously clean water of Prince William Sound.

Scientists believe the oil directly killed hundreds of thousands of sea birds and thousands of marine mammals. Oil and the cleanup that followed caused massive damage to the complex, interwoven colonies of plants and animals in the rich shoreline zone between low tide and high.

In communities from Prince William Sound to the Alaska Peninsula, the spring and summer of 1989 was a time of upheaval. Fishing seasons and subsistence were lost. Some fishermen made fortunes leasing their boats and hiring on for the cleanup, while their neighbors couldn't get contracts or refused them on principle. Thousands of people flooded into the area from around the country, eager for a $16.69-an-hour job wiping rocks.

The spill also shook Alaskans' confidence in the oil industry and in the federal and state governments' ability to regulate it. Yet even as Alaskans railed against the failures, uncomfortable national attention was being focused on them in descriptions of the state as a lost paradise that had sold its soul for oil wealth.

Ten years ago, most experts predicted the damage from the spill would linger for a long time. And those predictions appear to be true.

In a special section starting today, the Daily News takes a detailed look at the environment of the spill zone and the creatures that inhabit it - how they are faring, what scientists have learned, what might still be in store for the future. In addition, Daily News cartoonist Peter Dunlap-Shohl retells the story of the grounding and its aftermath.

The series continues through Wednesday. We will be reporting on what has happened to the communities in the spill's path; about some spill workers who say their health was damaged by their work in the Sound in 1989 and how the government started, then dropped, an effort to review the overall health effects on participants in the cleanup; and how the transportation system has been vastly improved, though some promised changes remain unfulfilled.

- Richard Mauer, special projects editor

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Legacy of a Spill: Stories | Illustrations | Photos

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