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Wednesday, November 16, 2005 

HOT OFF THE WIRE: Dangerous Mold Levels Found in NO

The Natural Resources Defense Council comes through again with independent test results showing dangerously high mold levels inside and outside homes in New Orleans. All the information, including location-specific testing, Q&A, and guidelines for dealing with it can be found here:

http://www.nrdc.org/health/effects/katrinadata/contents.asp

We're still looking through all the findings, but needless to say, these findings are worrisome.


 

MUST READ: Katrina Cough

If you want something that pretty much amounts to a Cliff's Notes version of what we've been saying here for months, check out this story from Slate:

http://www.slate.com/id/2130421/?nav=tap3

It succinctly lays out the environmental health problems in New Orleans, how they compare to the 9.11 case, and what needs to be done.


Thursday, November 10, 2005 

New Orleans: "The humans are the guinea pigs here.''

A story out of the Associated Press today says that there are still environmental problems in New Orleans, though the EPA continues to downplay them.

But, a local chemical engineer with an enviromental group lays it out pretty well:

Gary Miller, a chemical engineer and air expert with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, said state and federal agencies have done a good job sampling the hurricane-hit region. But, he said, EPA has been reluctant to declare the region environmentally dangerous because the agency does not want to stop the rebuilding effort.

"There are millions of dollars at stake here, and the last thing EPA will want to do is get in front of that locomotive,'' Miller said.

He said the long-term health and environmental effects are still playing out.
"This is an ongoing experiment,'' he said, "and unfortunately the humans are the guinea pigs here.''

For example, he said, EPA samples show that there are high levels of lead and arsenic in sediment in New Orleans. Officials, he said, will need to be very careful about what they do with the contaminated soil.

Indeed, until the danger is properly determined, the people returning are guinea pigs. Some residents, it was reported on television, are begining to take on Mayor Ray Nagin. We hope those same residents band together with groups like the Bucket Brigade and Louisiana Environmental Action Network to put pressure on the government to protect the health of the public.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005 

EPA will clean up Minnesota homes, not New Orleans

As reported here yesterday, the EPA is again maintaining that it does not have the responsibility to clean up interior spaces that may be contaminated with Katrina's toxic dust. That, they say, is the job of the city and state.

And yet, on Oct 31, EPA announced the following, about the St. Regis, Minnesota contaminated site:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 has announced that homes near the St. Regis Superfund site in Cass Lake, Minn., willbe cleaned up and clean topsoil and grass will be applied to their yards...

The interim cleanup plan includes the removaland replacement of carpeting, initial and periodic housecleaning to remove dust,soil and grass cover on yards in the area, and actions to suppress dust on nearbydirt streets. While the houses are being cleaned, residents will be temporarily relocated to local hotels and also receive a food allowance....


People of New Orleans deserve to know why they're getting the shaft from the Feds.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005 

MSNBC Asks - Did New Orleans Bring People Back Too Soon?

This report by MSNBC does a decent job of going over the major complaints of those concerned about the environmental health integrity of New Orleans. Tons of good points in there, but two things should be focused on.

First, the story reports this:

“We waited until we got a written report from the EPA [before people were allowed back]” for each area, Nagin testified before the same Senate committee. “I kept asking for written reports and there was a reluctance to grant those,” he added, but they were eventually delivered.

He conceded, however, that the strategy was “somewhat risky” given the health concerns.


So, the Mayor admits he was taking a risk with human lives, and that should be the headline. Yet, even more astonishing than that is the statement that he based his decision on EPA reports, given that on September 19th, the Mayor said this:

"We also looked at the [EPA] report as it relates to flooded areas. And it was a very clever attorney who wrote the report. So it basically bounced on both sides of the issue and didn't really tell you much."


The Mayor then admitted to the Senate that he let people back into areas based on reports that "didn't tell him much," and "bounced on both sides of the issue." We'd assert that this was a little more than "somewhat risky." Maybe someone wants to then ask the Mayor what, if anything, then, led him to send people back?

The second main point is that the sediment has indeed turned to dust and has become airborne:

Activists say homes are the most immediate risk. “It’s kicked up in the form of dust and people are breathing it,” said Olson, the lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “People breathe it all together, and when you get that type of combination it’s particularly dangerous for people with respiratory illnesses.”

That may be one factor contributing to the new "Katrina Cough" (noted in a post below), and frankly, toxic dust from dried sediment is something we have warned about since the very first post.

One other thing to note in the story is that there is a growing group of dedicated grassroots scientists and activists in the story clamoring for action. We would encourage that, and ask that if you know someone in New Orleans, you urge them to support the efforts of groups like the Bucket Brigade.

In New York, after 9.11, the only way the EPA was forced to move in the right direction on the issue was for the public to unite and take action. Even still, the people of New York are battling the EPA to do its job.

For instance, the EPA's largest nonfeasance was refusing to test and clean interiors right after 9.11, saying it was the job of the City to do that. They still claim it isn't really their job.

Buried in this story is what they are telling the people of New Orleans (second to last paragraph):

And the EPA's sampling and cleanup plans addressed only the flood-deposited sediment outdoors. Planning for any cleanup inside homes or other buildings would be a state and local responsibility.


This is a long battle ahead, and New Orleanians need to band together now.


 

Interview with WBAI on New Orleans and the WTC Case

WBAI in New York today had Wilma Subra, a chemist from New Orleans, and Eric Schmeltzer, of this site, on their station today to talk about New Orleans and the dangers that may still lurk there, and how it compares to the World Trade Center case.

9/11 Environmental Action Coalition was kind enough to host the audio. You can find it at the link below. Please peruse their site to learn more about the environmental health effects STILL affecting many New Yorkers.

http://www.911ea.org/News_Stories_on_Katrina.htm#Health%20Hazards%20on%20the%20Gulf%20Coast;%20Similarities%20with%20Lower%20Manhattan%20after%209/11%20Examined


Friday, November 04, 2005 

“KATRINA COUGH” BEGINS TO SPREAD IN NEW ORLEANS

The Los Angeles Times reports today that “Katrina Cough” has started to affect those who have returned to the City. Residents who have been exposed to toxic muck, that has turned into toxic dust, have started to complain of “sinus headaches, congestion, runny noses and sore throats,” which one doctor describes as “very prevalent” among returnees.

Yet, the EPA continues to maintain that the air is safe in New Orleans, telling the City Council that the air is no different than before Katrina. Additionally, in the LA Times story, government health agencies say there is no real longterm problem. This is, they say, simply an allergic reaction.

Where have I heard this before?

In New York, post 9/11, the EPA and other government agencies did everything within their power to downplay any health risks to those exposed to World Trade Center dust, basically calling anyone who tried to warn the public alarmist.

The comparisons are eerie. Just look at these quotes from today’s LA Times story compared to New York, post 9/11.

LA TIMES, TODAY: “Numerous factors have contributed to the public's confusion…. For example, despite the mold warnings, the government has issued repeated public assurances that the air quality in areas affected by Katrina is safe. But tests of air quality have been aimed almost entirely at toxins, such as benzene, in areas where the storm caused oil spills. There has been very little testing, officials said, of "biologicals" — namely, the airborne mold that appears to be causing much of the problem.Most state and federal officials believe there is no need for additional testing because the contamination is confined largely to houses that were flooded during the storm."It is an indoor environmental problem, primarily," said Dr. Stephen Redd, chief of the air pollution and respiratory health branch at the National Center for Environmental Health, an arm of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

WASHINGTON POST, JANUARY 8, 2002: “The EPA, which has conducted thousands of tests of Lower Manhattan's air since Sept. 11, has repeatedly assured residents that the air is safe to breathe. Doctors note that some symptoms could be caused or enhanced by stress -- and many will undoubtedly dissipate as the last smoldering fires go out and the air grows clearer….
Alerted to concerns about Tabb's building, he said, the project hired an independent industrial hygienist to conduct tests of surfaces there on Dec. 3, using methods published by the American Society for Testing and Materials. The tests found the presence of settled asbestos dust 555 times above the suggested acceptable level.


Asked about those results, spokesman Geoff Ryan of the city's Department of Environmental Protection said the department does not recognize this type of test, and that its own tests at the building, done on Dec. 12, had come back negative.”

LA TIMES, TODAY: “Among healthy people, the condition is not considered serious and can generally be treated with antihistamines, nasal sprays or, in the case of bacterial infections, antibiotics.”


FOX NEWS, JANUARY 11 2002: “The Uniformed Firefighters Association estimates that about one-third of its 9,000 members suffer from "World Trade Center cough." One must wonder, though, how many of these men are simply suffering from the flu-related symptoms — it is flu season after all.

What's going on with the Tabbs and others, if not World Trade Center Syndrome? My bet is a combination of anxiety salted with hypochondria. Stress is a well-known asthma and headache trigger.”

Many reporters trusted government spin, both from Federal and City agencies. After all, these were government agencies charged with doing everything they could to protect the public health. Why in the hell would they want to downplay health risks, and endanger the public health?!

Why would the Pentagon, which is supposed to help provide for Troops and protect them continue to refuse to acknowledge things are screwed up in Iraq and our Troops need help?

In their quest to be “fair and balanced,” the press overcompensates, unfortunately. Whether it is Iraq or Gulf War Syndrome or World Trade Center cough or Katrina Cough, the media so tries to not be alarmist that it ends up being apologist. In the end, that keeps pressure off the decision makers and things don’t get done right until it is too late.

So what happened to those who had World Trade Center cough? Well, read this story from yesterday, which reads, in part:

“The latest follow-up report on lung function in New York City firefighters shows that firefighters who served in rescue efforts in the World Trade Center collapse are showing "accelerated pulmonary function decline”…."

Yes, that’s right. That cough that was just stress, or allergies and was supposed to be short-term has resulted in pulmonary decline that is 12 times higher than the normal aging process.

If Mayor Nagin doesn’t act like a leader and take charge, and if the EPA doesn’t stop sending it’s downplayed messages, they will have blood on their hands.


Thursday, October 27, 2005 

Heavy contamination found in New Orleans, including on Children's Playgrounds

So says MSNBC....

http://msnbc.msn.com/id/9828116/

Key quote is this. How funny, the private oil company says the area is safe, just as the EPA has been saying:

Heavy metals were found in the soil on the school’s playground, the groups said.

“Kids are always playing in the dirt and putting their hands in their mouths,” Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said in a statement announcing the results. “Why aren’t our government agencies talking about these risks?”

Murphy Oil sent a letter to residents earlier this week saying that testing by a company it had retained showed little threat of long-term health issues.



Saturday, October 22, 2005 

Experts Cite New Orleans Disaster Health Risks

Disaster News Network chimes in with this story (sadly reported nowhere else) about a roundtable discussion health and environmental experts held.

One doctor not only warned residents to protect themselves, but drew the parallel to 9.11 and what New York is still dealing with because the EPA refused to take the health threat seriously. Note, when he says respirators, he DOES NOT mean paper masks. We've seen a number of pictures of people cleaning up wearing those. They will absolutely not protect you from most harmful particulate matter:

"In New Orleans and the South you will have dust and it will be made up of all kinds of things," said Lioy. "We're still tearing down buildings (in New York City) because we can't clean them up. This will also be an issue the South will have to deal with."

Related to the dust, Lioy said that knowing its specific make-up is crucial to cleaning it up correctly. "Characterize your dust now, know what's in it and know it well. It's not just one single chemical, it's multiple toxins. And those toxins may not alone impact people, but they could react differently mixed together."

Lioy also advised those present to make sure no one is left out during the cleanup phase and to make sure responders and workers are equipped with respirators. Pointing to an image of Ground Zero cleanup workers with respirators resting around their necks, Lioy cautioned the conference-goers.

"One of the most serious issues after Sept. 11 was that no one wore respirators (during cleanup)," he explained. "You need to make sure that not only government workers and large contractors have them, but that everyone has them and wears them."


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  • We are the New Orleans Environmental Blog Team
  • We are a group of former Congressional staff, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff, and environmental group staff tracking and analyzing the news, in real time, from New Orleans from an environmental health perspective.

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