25 years ago this week, the Exxon Valdez struck a reef in the pristine marine habitat of Prince William Sound.
The tanker spewed approx. 11 million gallons of crude oil into the clean, clear waters. So much for pristine.
Today, Exxon Mobile touts the comeback of the bay – but not so fast. A scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (as quoted by the McClatchy Washington Bureau) said “I think the big surprise for all of us who have worked on this thing for the last 25 years has been the continued presence of relatively fresh oil.”
Indeed, despite the glowing remarks on recovery by Exxon Mobile, what looks recovered is anything but; pockets of oil are still found a few inches below the shoreline. A committee deems sockeye and pink salmon to be recovered but other species – otters, herring (which showed evidence of lesions related to the oil) and killer whales – are yet at pre-spill levels.
The “spill is not over,” said another scientist. “The damage persists in quite remarkable ways.” And we persist in drilling in Alaska and possibly shoving Canadian oil slurry through a high pressure pipeline just feet above the Ogallala Aqufier through my beloved Sand Hills in Nebraska?
This is not good news: according to the Environmental Protection Agency and based on research by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the average total waste for a newly constructed 3,000 sq. ft. home is estimated, incredibly, to be at least 13,000 lbs. That’s more than 4 lbs. per sq. ft. And we know where most of that waste winds up.
The EPA reports 36 percent of all material in 1,900 U.S. landfills derives from construction/demolition/renovation. I know that there are costs and time related to recycling, and some industries (steel, for example) encourage high recovery rates. As resources dwindle and, hopefully, recycling technology ramps up, we can, and ought to, do better.
My development is a microcosm of what is discarded and hauled away. Workers have been replacing the facia on our brownstones. Several loads have been carted away and it’s doubtful – and I don’t know this for certain – the destination is a recycling facility.
It makes my efforts paltry by comparison. Rather than my deeds as a drop in the bucket to reduce waste, it’s more like a molecule in a bucket.