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Alberta Oil Spill Fumes Sicken Little Buffalo Students

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Fumes from a 28,000-barrel oil spill into Lubicon traditional territory caused officials in the Little Buffalo community in northern Alberta to suspend classes at the local school as nausea, burning eyes and headaches plagued the K-12 students.

Plains Midstream Canada LP shut its Rainbow pipeline in northern Alberta indefinitely after the April 29 spill, a regulator told Bloomberg on May 4.

Little Buffalo was closed for the fourth consecutive day on May 4, according to a statement released by the First Nation community, in the Peace region of Alberta.

"The children and staff at the school were disorientated, getting headaches and feeling sick to their stomachs,” said principal Brian Alexander in the statement. “We tried to send the children outside to get fresh air as it seemed worse in the school but when we sent them out they were getting sick as well."

Chief Steve Noskey said the community had received little information from the company or regulatory officials.

"What we do know is that the health of our community is at stake,” Noskey said in the community's statement. “Our children cannot attend school until there is a resolution. The ERCB is not being accountable to our community; they did not even show up to our community meeting to inform us of the unsettling situation we are dealing with. The company is failing to provide sufficient information to us so we can ensure that the health and safety of our community is protected.”

By midweek Plains Midstream had recovered about 1,900 barrels, or seven percent, of the spilled oil, the company said on its website, and was continuing recovery efforts. On May 4 the company said it had contained the spill, repaired the pipeline and was awaiting regulatory approval to start up again.

The Rainbow pipeline stretches 480 miles from Zama to Edmonton, Alberta, with an additional 114 miles of gathering pipelines, Plains Midstream said. The system pumped about 187,000 barrels per day during 2010 and has the capacity to pump 220,000 barrels daily, the company said.

This is Alberta's biggest pipeline spill in 36 years, a regulator told the Calgary Herald. In 1975, Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) spokesperson Davis Sheremata told the newspaper, the Bow Valley line leaked 40,000 barrels.

Little Buffalo School officials said that although the ERCB had faxed a fact sheet explaining the spill and saying it had been contained, "community members report that the oil is still leaking into the surrounding forest and bog."