National Geographic : 1990 Jan
nd work they did, for week After frustrating week, an army of 11,000 men and women pitted against the worst ever U. S. tanker spill. On May 23 about 180 workers attacked the stricken shore of Green Island with high-pressure hoses to break up the tarry residue and wash it to the water's edge for collection. Such methods, how ever, sometimes killed shoreline organisms. Exxon Corporation, responsible for the oil and its ill-fated tanker, will spend more than a billion dollars attempting to clean up one of the costliest industrial accidents in history. Another price: the withholding of scientific data about the spill because of pending lawsuits and damage claims. A debate over whether to use chemical dispersants to break up the North Slope crude was rendered moot when hurricane force winds broke up the black tide and drove it southwest. Eventually patches drifted 500 miles along the Kenai Peninsula to the Alaska Peninsula and Ko diak Island. Although volunteers struggled to save oiled seabirds, tens of thousands died. Local fishermen, galvanized by the threat to the sound's commercial salmon hatcheries, grabbed most of the available contain ment gear and sped to protect their livelihood.