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Special Report Part 2: Arkansans Look to Mich. for Long-Term Oil Spill Impact

In July 2010, an oil pipeline leaked an estimated 843,000 gallons of oil in the town of Marshall, Michigan.
It's incredible. Our community has changed forever, it truly has.
Pat O'Conner says everything has changed since the oil spill.
Pat O'Conner says everything has changed since the oil spill.
If you take a close look at some of these pools that have collected along the bank of the river, you can see still see an oily sheen across the top of the water.
If you take a close look at some of these pools that have collected along the bank of the river, you can see still see an oily sheen across the top of the water.
MARSHALL, MICH. -- In July 2010, an oil pipeline leaked an estimated 843,000 gallons of oil in the town of Marshall, Mich.

The oil was heavy crude from Canada, similar to what spilled out of a pipeline earlier this year in Mayflower.
  
In part one of our special report, we told the story of a backyard oasis ruined.
  
We also heard from a scientist who says the long-term effects of the spill on the environment are still unknown.
  
Now, we look into how the spill in Michigan is impacting people's health.

When we visited Michigan in late September, Enbridge, owner of the ruptured pipeline was dredging the Kalamazoo River. The $175-million project was ordered after the US EPA determined remaining oil was a threat to the environment.

But for folks in Michigan, the worries don't end with potential harm to mother nature.

"We've had several in our community that at the age of 50-ish have been diagnosed with terminal cancer and died within a couple of months," said Deb Miller who became an activist after seeing the effect she says the spill was having on her community.
  
For Miller, the spill struck close to home. Her family's carpet business sat on the shores of the Kalamazoo.

"We have since sold that property because we believe it to be contaminated," she said.

James Rutherford runs the Calhoon County Health Department. So far, he hasn't received evidence from local physicians that the health effects Miller speaks of can be traced back to the oil spill.
  
He's called for a long-term health study to look at the possibility, but his requests have been shot down.

"It's really difficult to ascertain what's going to happen 25 years from now as a result of any exposure to this," Rutherford said.

For its part, Enbridge has stuck with a line familiar to people in Mayflower. The company says testing has shown levels of toxins from the spill to be below the threshold known to cause lasting health problems in people.

"There are no long-term health impacts here in Michigan or in the Kalamazoo River that we have seen," said Enbridge spokesman Jason Manshum.

That's similar to what ExxonMobil has been saying in Mayflower since its oil pipeline ruptured March 29, spilling an estimated 210,000 gallons, about 1/4 the size of the Michigan spill.

In both cases, the government has agreed that people aren't at risk, long term, according to the best-available science.

In both cases, some people like Pat O'Conner, whose home sits on the Kalamazoo, have disagreed.

"Nobody knows what it did to you long-term," he said. In the immediate aftermath of the spill, O'Conner said he experienced nausea and skin rashes among other symptoms.

What was crystal clear during our trip to Michigan is three-and-a-half years later, residents are still feeling the impact of the oil spill.

Dredging operations are expected to continue through the end of the year.  "For sale" signs dot neighborhoods.  And various law suits are still playing out in court.

"It's incredible," Miller said.  "Our community has changed forever, it truly has."
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