Mayflower superintendent: District air quality ‘all safe’

By Tammy Keith Originally Published April 7, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated April 5, 2013 at 10:59 a.m.
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Mayflower Superintendent John Gray said repeated air-quality tests conducted following a crude-oil spill in the city nine days ago were “all safe.”

“We’re being very sensitive to health issues as far as air quality for our kids,” Gray said last week.

An Exxon Mobil Corp. underground pipeline ruptured March 29 on property in the Northwoods subdivision, which is less than a mile from the school campuses.

Authorities said last week that 12,000 barrels of oil and water had been recovered, which included most of the free-standing oil.

Gray said Exxon Mobil did air-quality checks last weekend at the elementary school and middle school/high school campus, ”and everything was clear.”

However, Gray said, the district enlisted an outside company to conduct testing.

Exxon Mobil is footing the bill, he said.

“Our county judge is very industrious. He said we can arrange these indoor air-quality tests,” Gray said. “He’s been excellent.

“At 6:30 Monday morning, we had someone do internal and external air checks [at the elementary school],” Gray said. “It was all safe.

“Just to be doubly sure, we did it again at lunchtime on Monday. Just to be triply sure, we did it Tuesday at 7 o’clock in the morning,” Gray said.

Outdoor air-quality tests were conducted at the middle school/high school campus, he said.

“On Monday, you could smell [the oil] in the air, but it wasn’t dangerous at any time,” Gray said.

He said about eight elementary-school students went home Monday because the smell “made them nauseous.”

“We found some people like the smell, a lot of people are indifferent about it, but there’s a small group that just don’t like the smell,” he said.

Gray said Wednesday, “You couldn’t even smell it in the building. Whatever’s there is evaporating into the air and blowing away.”

Twenty-two families were evacuated from the Northwoods subdivision.

Gray said some of the students relocated to Conway, Morgan and Little Rock. About 14 Mayflower students who live in or near the Northwoods subdivision are on the district’s bus route, Gray said.

He said the district is accommodating the transportation needs of those students as much as possible.

For example, he said, at least one of the evacuated families is staying in a Little Rock hotel and using the elementary school as a central drop-off point for both children.

Doug and Jennifer Tistle have three daughters, including Drew, 11, a middle-school student, and Ty, 9, an elementary student.

Their 16-year-old, Alexus, attends school in North Little Rock, Doug Tistle said.

He said they live “in the middle” of the subdivision on Starlite Road North.

Tistle said he works at the University of Central Arkansas in the information technology department, and his wife works at The Gap in Little Rock.

News of the oil leak was a shock.

“I actually found out from my neighbor,” Tistle said. “He had called and left me a voice message saying, ‘Hey, there was oil running to the back of my house.’ I thought, ‘What oil?’ I knew a natural-gas line was back there, but I didn’t know about any oil.”

Tistle said he was met by police at the entrance to his subdivision and told his family couldn’t enter.

However, they were escorted back to their home on March 30 and Monday to get personal items, he said.

The oil is in his backyard and side yard, he said.

At a community meeting March 30, one of two held at the school, Tistle said Mayor Randy Holland gave him the superintendent’s telephone number.

“I called him (Gray) Monday and told him my circumstances and asked him what kind of provisions they were making for the children not riding the bus,” Tistle said.

“He asked me what did I need, and I told him … what my needs were. I asked, ‘Could we make this a central thing?’” Tistle said.

He said he also talked to Mayflower Elementary School Principal Candie Watts.

“They made it happen,” Tistle said.

He said he takes his two daughters to the elementary school in the morning, and the bus takes his 11-year-old to the middle school.

In the afternoon, the bus drops off the older girl at the elementary school.

Tistle said he has been pleased with the response of school and community officials.

“I think everybody has been really good,” he said.

“It’s stressful for [the dislocated families],” Gray said, “but they’re having a very positive attitude.”

Dodson said a “phased-in” return of the families to their homes is planned, but Tistle said, “[It] could be just a little longer for us.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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