The paper by Harwell and Gentile (2006) published in this issue of Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (IEAM) reviews the ecological significance and persistence of impacts associated with the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Reviewing the considerable body of ecological, ecotoxicological, and biological studies conducted in the years preceding the oil spill and during the 17 years after the oil spill, the authors attempt to address the question often asked following environmental catastrophes similar to this one: In the years following the Exxon Valdez oil spill, are there any remaining and continuing ecologically significant exposures or effects on the Prince William Sound ecosystem directly attributable to the oil spill?

We are proud to provide the peer-reviewed forum for these authors to ask and answer this important scientific question. The mission of a scientific journal is to publish manuscripts that are consistent with the scope of the journal and that have undergone a rigorous peer-review process. In the case of IEAM, the mission involves integrating scientific research with environmental management in an open forum that encourages hypothesis-testing, fosters technical discussion (including debate), and promotes new ideas and approaches to resolve difficult and complex environmental challenges. IEAM challenges scientists and environmental managers to ask and answer the “so what” and “what if” questions.

The nature and extent of residual impacts from the Exxon Valdez oil spill is the subject of significant on-going scientific, regulatory, and public debate and controversy, as demonstrated by the recent newsmagazine article appearing in Time (Caplan 2006) in recognition of the anniversary of the oil spill. Consistent with the high standards of peer-review required by the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) and its members and recognizing the varied and strongly-held viewpoints surrounding this anniversary, the manuscript submitted by Harwell and Gentile was reviewed by 16 anonymous reviewers, including several members of the IEAM Founding Editorial Board. The authors are commended for their patience and their careful attention to comments and criticisms raised by reviewers during the preparation of their final manuscript.

The final acceptance and publication of the Harwell and Gentile paper reflects a determination by the Editor-in-Chief and the Founding Editorial Board that the paper is substantive and worthy of publication. The publication of this paper does not, however, imply that IEAM endorses the authors' findings as scientific truth. The paper reflects the authors' interpretations of the extraordinarily comprehensive set of ecological studies performed following the oil spill. The Founding Editorial Board is aware that others may have different interpretations of the same studies, and that others may be able to point to different studies supporting contrary interpretations and conclusions.

It is our hope and expectation that publication of the Harwell and Gentile paper will stimulate a productive, scientific debate concerning the nature of the residual impacts remaining nearly 2 decades after the Exxon Valdez oil spill and about the prognosis for continued recovery of the Prince William Sound ecosystem. The Founding Editorial Board of IEAM invites reaction to this paper and additional analysis that contributes to assessment of the ecological status of Prince William Sound; we will consider them in future issues of the journal, in accordance with our peer-review process. It is only by examination of the successes and weaknesses of our collective responses to the oil spill that we might learn from the event, avoid mistakes (if any), and improve our ability to respond to similar catastrophes in the future.


  1. Top of page
  2. References
  • Caplan J. 2006. Still going on. Time Magazine. 10 April.
  • Harwell MA, Gentile JH. 2006. Ecological Significance of Residual Exposures and Effects from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Integ Environ Assess Manage. 2: 204246.