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President of GVSU looks back on the clean-up of the Exxon Valdez oil spill

ARLIS Reference

We've just marked the 25th anniversary of one of the most catastrophic man-made environmental disasters, the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

It was just after midnight on March 24, 1989 when the Exxon Valdez struck a reef in Prince William Sound. 11 million gallons of crude oil gushed into the pristine waters.

The clean-up effort was staggering. Among those called to help was U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Thomas Haas. He was a chemist and an expert in hazmat cleanup. Twenty-five years later, that Lt. Commander is the president of Grand Valley State University.

“We had to figure out what clean meant,” Haas said.

There were efforts to clean the mess, but not all the efforts were good for the environment. Haas said they used some very intrusive means on cleaning up the area, such as sterilizing some of the beach areas with hot water spray.

“The efforts to sterilize the area with steam and high pressure water was really not the best way to go,” Haas said.

Haas said the sight of the animals that were affected by the spill was gruesome.

When cleaning, he said they tried to move all of the oil into one spot and move it to the bottom of the seabed.

He said at that time, there was not a lot of knowledge on the toxicity of oil and the effect it had on the fish. They understood the short-term effects of the oil, but not the long-term effects.  

“I still don’t think we fully understand the total toxicity of some of the residual oils that are there,” Haas said.

*Listen to full story with Thomas Haas above.

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