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Exxon Valdez oil spill impacts lasting far longer than expected, scientists say

(Embargoed) CHAPEL HILL -- Assuming that oil spills such as the one that devastated Alaska's Prince William Sound almost 15 years ago and other toxic insults to the environment have only short-term impacts on coastal marine ecosystems has been a big mistake, a new study shows.

Oil's negative effects last far longer, scientists now say, and the findings should be a wake-up call for better environmental research and protection.

The study, conducted by a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researcher and colleagues, involved synthesizing results of numerous more specialized but revealing investigations of the Alaskan disaster's impact on various plant and animal species.

"These simply astounding findings have extremely important implications for environmental management," said principal investigator Dr. Charles H. Peterson, Alumni Distinguished professor of marine sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "They show the environmental consequences of the Exxon Valdez oil spill went far beyond the more than 250,000 seabirds, thousands of marine mammals and countless numbers of other coastal marine organisms killed in the first days, weeks and months."

A report on the work appears in the Dec. 19 issue of the journal Science.

Besides Peterson, authors are Drs. Stanley D. Rice and Jeffrey W. Short of the National Marine Fisheries Service's Auke Bay Laboratory at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Juneau; Dr. Daniel Esler of Canada's Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.; Drs. James L. Bodkin and Brenda E. Ballachey of the U.S. Geological Survey's Alaska Science Center in Anchorage; and Dr. David B. Irons of the U.S. Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage.

"Studies we reviewed and synthesized showed that oil has persisted in surprisingly large quantities for years after the Exxon Valdez spill in subsurface reservoirs under course intertidal sediments," Peterson s
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Contact: David Williamson
919-962-8596
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
18-Dec-2003


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