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From Valdez to BP: Sandy Delivers Another Devastating Blow

Across America, oil spills have wrought havoc on our land, wildlife, and the health of our families and communities. March 24 and April 20 represent the anniversaries of the worst oil spills in U.S. history, the Exxon Valdez and the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, respectively. Together, these events dumped more than 5.65 million barrels of dirty oil in U.S. waters.

In light of this toxic anniversary, the Sierra Club presents a three-week look at oil companies' poisonous legacy across our nation.

D13 - Arthur Kill Sandy - NOAA                              Oil sheen on the waters of Arthur Kill on the border of NJ and NY in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.                                      Photo credit: NOAA.

A less-noticed byproduct of destructive hurricanes, oil and other hazardous material spills pose a huge public health and environmental threat. The 540 spills resulting from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, totalling an estimated 11 million gallons, was comparable in size to the notorious Exxon Valdez spill.

Superstorm Sandy's dangerous weather conditions spewed oil, hazardous materials, and other debris across waterways along the Mid Atlantic in 2012. The largest spill resulting from Sandy occurred when a tank ruptured at a storage facility owned by a joint venture of Shell and Saudi Refining Inc, spilling 350,000 gallons of diesel into the Arthur Kill, a narrow waterway separating New Jersey and Staten Island.

Sensitive salt marsh habitats in the Arthur Kill waterway are highly productive and important wildlife habitat and nursery areas. According to NOAA, "though thin sheens contain little oil, wind and high water levels after the storm could push the diesel deep into the marsh, where it could persist and contaminate sediments... In addition, diesel spills can kill the many small invertebrates at the base of the food chain which live in tidal flats and salt marshes if they are exposed to a high enough concentration."

--By Claire Price, Lands Team Intern

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