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Friday, September 30, 2005 

Most comprehensive story to date on New Orleans

Michelle Chen with the New Standard is quickly proving to be the most hard-working reporter in so far as the enviro situation. Read this story in its entirety, but note this quote:

Marjorie Clarke, an environmental scientist with the City University of New York, predicted that many residents will see no choice but to risk their health to clean their homes. Despite the government’s responsibility to protect people during disaster recovery, she said, "telling people to come in and take care of whatever needs to be taken care of themselves… is basically encouraging people to have exposures to toxic materials."


 

New CNN Story on New Orleans Health Risks

Pretty good story at CNN on the health risks people face when they come back:

"The potential for any long-lasting effects depends on the degree of exposure.... how long people are exposed" to contaminated sediments, bacteria-laden floodwater or other health hazards, said Dr. Henry Falk, director for environmental health and injury prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Of course, the length of exposure all depends on how long people stay around an uncleaned, contaminated area. Unfortunately, without rigorous testing and a proper cleanup, many people could unknowingly be returning home to face lethal exposure.


Thursday, September 29, 2005 

EPA Chief Declines to Say If He'd Move His Family Back to New Orleans


Buried at the end of this story are some vital points:

First, Federal and State officials have some problems with the Mayor's plan to bring people back, some of them environmental.

Second, despite these concerns, the EPA won't take a position on the Mayor's plan to move people back in.

Third, EPA Administrator Johnson won't even say if he'd move his family back to the area if he was a resident. To us, that's about as good as a "no" answer.

By NOT endorsing the plan, the EPA is protecting itself and the Feds against civil action from people who may get seriously ill and/or die as a result of exposure to the toxins in New Orleans.

But also by not advising people to not move back, when it is clear they have concerns, the EPA is acting with nonfeasance as it relates to their mission to protect human health.


 

New Orleans Environment - Why YOU Should Care

Shifting gears a little from the toxic problem to the bacteria problem in New Orleans...

This Reuters piece reports there are 22 million tons of contaminated waste (including rotting food waste) in New Orleans. How does this affect you if you're not in New Orleans?

Well, all testing of water and muck in New Orleans documents extremely high levels of pathogens. Most of the tap water is not potable and the Mayor was shown on CNN last night pleading with the State to come down and test the tapwater. The Mayor also said that most of the tap water is not safe to drink. If people drink the water, they can take in a whole lot of things you don't want taken in.

The flood waters that covered New Orleans were filled with sewage. There are many reports saying that there are numerous flies in New Orleans, and that the air smells putrid in many parts of the City. The air smells putrid because of the many pathogens travelling through the air. As we know, flies are also "transporters" of disease that can easily be picked up from this toxic sewage water.

The effects of that are already being seen. According to Doctors treating folks from down there, people exposed to the waters are showing signs of unique infections, and five people have already been reported as having died from exposure to pathogens down there.

Notwithstanding all this, the Mayor is opening up New Orleans, except the flooded areas, for everyone to come back. Bringing 100,000+ people into an environment like that increases the risk of epidemics.

THIS IS A VERY VERY RISKY AND DANGEROUS SITUATION. The more people that return, the greater the odds someone (or some people) pick up a serious infectious disease from the air, water, or bugs. If an epidemic starts down there it could spread to other parts of the country.

What starts in New Orleans won't stay in New Orleans. No one should be allowed back until the area has been tested and cleared to be safe.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005 

Local environmental chemist says officials in N.O. and the surrounding parishes are underestimating the post-Katrina health hazard

This article really gets to the point very well - no one knows what in the hell being around New Orleans will do to you longterm. Ray Nagin has a local, independent chemist who is willing to tell him why he shouldn't base his decisions on the EPA's data. I wonder if he'll pick up the phone and give her a buzz?

http://www.theind.com/news2.asp?CID=1032994681

I would think statements like this would make him take pause:

The possible long-term effects are unknown. “Infertility, miscarriages, possibly cancer,” she speculates. “Nobody knows what the effects are going to be. The bottom line — if [the people of New Orleans] don’t have to return home, they shouldn’t.”


Tuesday, September 27, 2005 

If heading to New Orleans, wear a respirator...

This story is on the Knight Ridder wire. Finally a story that stresses that there is no idea what long term exposure to the New Orleans environment could do. Also, check out this ominous warning:

Health officials recommend that everyone in the city wear a respirator mask. As the city dries out, dust will be a problem. Breathing dust under any circumstances is unhealthy, but the dust in New Orleans may contain contaminants, they said.


Monday, September 26, 2005 

BREAKING: EPA Testers Privately Telling People New Orleans is Off the Charts

CBS News is running this blog from one of their guys down in New Orleans, which includes, in part:

The teams working in St. Bernard Parish, which is now an enormous toxic waste dump, are waking up with sore throats and other respiratory ailments. Privately, the EPA testers have told them that all the pollutants and environmental toxins are way off the scale. No one is looking to stay there long.

If this is true, there must be an immediate stop to any plans to repopulate and an immediate fullscale investigation into the EPA and what they are holding back.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press is reporting in this story that the sludge and everything else was stirred up by new flooding in New Orleans due to Rita, and they have no idea if there were any breaches at any hazardous sites. Just more reason to slow everything down.


Saturday, September 24, 2005 

Scientist Urges More New Orleans Air Testing

The Advocate runs this piece today about a scientist that has worked with a number of enviromental groups urging that more comprehensive air testing be done before people are allowed back in New Orleans.

She makes a number of points that we have. The most important, though, is that as sediment dries and blows around, it leaves restricted areas and is carried to areas that people have been allowed back to. Thus, nowhere in the city can be declared safe for rehabitation, even once the waters from Hurricane Rita are pumped out and the levees repaired.

http://www.2theadvocate.com/stories/092405/new_testing001.shtml


Friday, September 23, 2005 

Best Piece Yet on New Orleans Enviro

Bravo to Michelle Chen at the New Standard for putting together what is, we think, the most complete story on the New Orleans environmental health situation as of yet. It's hard to write about this with so many unknowns, but this piece manages to put everything together.

http://newstandardnews.net/content/index.cfm/items/2395


 

Newest EPA Release on New Orleans, "Yeah, um, we don't know."

Hey, at least give them points for finally being honest that their air sampling methods are not reliable and shouldn't be used for anything. We'll see if reporters finally note that in their stories. Here are some snippets from their latest release today on their air sampling.


"Because samples were not collected with standard monitors, the mix of particles in the screening samples cannot easily be compared to EPA's standards...."

"These data were collected using a portable, battery-powered monitor that often is used in emergency response situations, because it gives immediate readings. EPA does not use data from these types of monitors either for compliance purposes or for generating routine air quality advisories...."

"These initial results represent the beginning of extensive sampling efforts and do not represent all air conditions throughout the area. As this is a dynamic situation, general conclusions should not be made regarding air quality based on results from this snapshot of data. For sampling information, go to: http://www.epa.gov/katrina/testresults/air/dataram.html..."


Thursday, September 22, 2005 

Sediment Samples in New Orleans Are Out

The EPA has put up its latest sample data from sediment collections and it's worrisome to say the least. They readily admit there's some bacteria and a few metals, but again their tests have a couple of glaring omissions. Namely Benzene and Toluene.

http://www.epa.gov/katrina/testresults/sediments/index.html

Benzene and Toluene are prevalent in petroleum products like oil and gas. Yet neither can be found in the test results. About a week ago the EPA said it couldn't find Toluene and Benzene in the water because petroleum products were so dense in the water and lots had sunk into the sediment. Yet, they are not finding it in the sediment either?

We all know there is a lot of petroleum products in that water and sediment - the EPA has admitted as much. But to acknowlege the existance of it without finding Toluene and Benzene is like testing water and not finding hydrogen or oxygen.

But don't take our word for it, find out more right here:

Most studies have been done on benzene which is the only proven carcinogen. Benzene is suspected to be link to leukemia which is a disease of the blood making system in our bones. Strong evidence between long term exposure to benzene and leukemia have been found. Upon exposure to benzene, the benzene will move into the blood stream. From the blood stream it can get into fatty tissues where it can undergo reactions that produce phenol, which is an even more serious carcinogen than benzene.

The inhalation of toluene and xylenes in concentrations of 0.4 mg/l causes headache, dizziness and irritation of the mucous membranes. In higher concentrations toluene and xylenes can led to a reduced ability of co-ordination. Long term exposure of toluene and xylenes have been proven to cause brain damage, but neither of them are carcinogens.
One way that these can enter the body is not only from direct exposure to the water or sediment, but also through vapors (that "putrid smell" everyone talks about down there). This is why respirators must be given out. Further, when the sediment dries and becomes dust, it can spread these contaminants as it is agitated by the wind, sweeping, etc.

We're not going to say the EPA is lying, because we can't prove they are knowingly covering something up, yet, but we can say with certainty that their tests are flawed and/or incomplete and no media should base any story on this data and no decisions by government should be based on it.


 

Pollutants around New Orleans

OMB Watch has a comprehensive report on all the facilities that contained hazardous materials. While not all the materials were released, a good number of them were. This is why there needs to be comprehensive testing done in the area before the government moves people back in.

Check out the report here:

http://www.ombwatch.org/article/articleview/3088

Also be sure to sign their petition to get the EPA to do its job!!

http://www.demaction.org/dia/organizations/ombwatch/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=1198


 

Feed was off

Apparently our feed was turned off for like a week and a half. Sorry about that. To those subscribing, yes, we are updating this all the time. Please check the dozens of posts you've missed.


 

No Procedure in Place to Monitor New Orleans' Worker Health

This Gannett story is disturbing because, as it mentions, this is yet another parallel to the screw-up by the Feds after 9/11 in New York.

"The federal government has no comprehensive program in place to monitor the physical and mental health of emergency workers serving in polluted and stressful conditions along the devastated Gulf Coast."

In New York, the health monitoring system came under heavy fire. First, it started too late. Second, the screening was pathetic. Recent estimates are that 75% of the 9/11 first responders have become sick, and there are some gut wrenching stories about some who have died, because of their exposure to the toxic environment at Ground Zero. New Orleans first responders must be adequately protected and properly monitored, beginning immediately.


 

EPA to New Orleans Residents - You're on your own!

In this Department of Homeland Security release is this news:

EPA mobile labs in the New Orleans area are distributing 700 drinking water sample test kits to Parish Health Units for use by private well owners. There are a total of 683 drinking water facilities In the Louisiana affected area that serves approximately 2.8 million people.


Not only should people who are not scientifically trained never test their water for safety, but these home water sample testing kits do not measure the levels of toxic chemicals in the water, so there will be a lot of people who think the water is OK, when, in fact, they could be drinking a deadly brew. EPA, under the National Response Plan, is the lead agency responsible for doing all of this, and they must immediately cease and desist passing the buck to untrained civilians. Only professionals should test the water before people are allowed to consume it.

This is not the first time the EPA has passed the buck, sadly. In this September 14th press release, they suggest way people can handle asbestos right after they say it can cause cancer and mesothelioma and should not be handled!! Talk about talking out both sides of your mouth!


· If you know or suspect that your home contains asbestos or lead-based paint and any of these materials have been damaged or will otherwise be disturbed during cleanup, seek the assistance of public health authorities and try to obtain help from specially trained contractors, if available.

· In handling materials that are believed to be contaminated with asbestos or lead, EPA recommends that, at a minimum, you wear gloves, goggles, and most importantly, OSHA-approved respiratory protection, if available.


It is illegal for anyone or any agency to recommend to civilians ways they can handle asbestos. Such material should never, under any circumstances, be handled by someone not licensed.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005 

Will the toxic cleanup of New Orleans be politicized?


Great piece in E (The Environmental Magazine) on what has not been told to the people of New Orleans. You can read the whole piece here.

The key segment of the article is this, though. Come on EPA. Be straight with the people:


"Is it safe to bring an 11-year-old boy back in there? We want the latest scientific information. We want to be assured that there will be monitoring. What happened to the Cancer Alley chemical plants? Weren't they flooded? We don't want to be told in 25 years that the reason we all got horrible diseases was because of our exposure in the wake of the storm.

"Millions of Gulf Coast residents face difficult choices like this, and the federal government could help with clear information about toxic threats and advice on how people should cope as the rebuilding effort gets underway. Unfortunately, Congress and the Bush administration seem more concerned with image building and with scoring political points than in assisting the citizenry. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency is coming under withering criticism for its failure to provide timely data. "


 

Jerry Nadler to Bush on New Orleans Environment: Learn from the Mistakes of 9/11

We're big fans of Rep. Jerry Nadler, and hope he gets an answer to some of these questions. We'll see if the EPA responds.



Nadler to Bush: Learn from the Mistakes of 9/11

Urges President, EPA, to protect Katrina victims from environmental dangers


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) today wrote to President Bush, urging him not to repeat the mistakes the federal government made after 9/11 as recovery efforts get underway on the Gulf Coast. Congressman Nadler, who represents Ground Zero, watched four years ago as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prematurely declared Lower Manhattan safe for reoccupation – and now thousands are sick. Unfortunately, EPA’s handling of the Katrina cleanup shows much of the same haste and denial.

Among the most troubling signs that the federal government is taking a lax approach to cleanup are EPA’s recommendation that average citizens tackle asbestos cleanup, the failure to provide emergency workers with respirators, and – perhaps most frightening – reports that the White House has appointed political guru Karl Rove to head the reconstruction effort.

In his letter, Nadler asked for concrete answers to nine specific questions about the federal government’s commitment to environmental protection in the wake of Katrina. The full text of the letter appears below.


September 21, 2005

The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I write regarding environmental conditions on the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. As you know, the September 11 terrorist attacks in my district produced severe and widespread environmental contamination. When the Twin Towers collapsed, thousands of tons of hazardous materials, such as asbestos, lead, and mercury, were released into the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has yet to properly test and clean up the areas contaminated by the attacks. I am deeply concerned that many of the same mistakes made by EPA in response to 9/11 are being repeated on the Gulf Coast.

I am pleased that you recently expressed concerns about contamination levels in the remaining floodwaters and the muck left behind in drained areas of the city. However, EPA needs to do more to warn and shield people returning to New Orleans from exposure to hazardous contaminants. EPA must do now what it so tragically failed to do in New York: comprehensively test the entire affected area for all possible contaminants and completely clean those areas before people are allowed to return to their homes and businesses.

A troubling example of EPA’s failure to protect Americans affected by Hurricane Katrina can be found in this guidance to people returning to homes and businesses: “In handling materials that are believed to be contaminated with asbestos or lead, EPA recommends that, at a minimum, you wear gloves, goggles, and most importantly, OSHA-approved respiratory protection, if available” (EPA Press Release, 9/14/05). This is eerily reminiscent of EPA’s post-9/11 suggestion that New Yorkers clean up debris containing asbestos with a “wet rag or wet mop” – a statement that directly contradicts federal guidelines, endangers people’s lives, and has already become the subject of lawsuits against the federal government.

In both cases, this advice is dangerous and illegal. Under no circumstances should ordinary residents clean up asbestos. The removal and disposal of asbestos must be carried out only by licensed contractors in compliance with regulations and procedures designed to protect the public health and environment. But because – just as in New York – many of the people returning to the Gulf Coast lack the means to hire contractors, residents will likely be tempted to clean up hazardous debris themselves, or to hire low-wage workers to do the job. It is absolutely essential, therefore, that EPA test for hazardous substances and fully remediate contaminated areas before people are allowed to return.

It is additionally troubling that, despite the recommendation that people wear OSHA-approved respirators when cleaning up hurricane debris, it appears that many of the responders and contractors working on the Katrina recovery effort are not wearing such protection. A photo on the front page of the Washington Post on September 17, 2005 shows Dwanda Tyler, a FEMA contractor, cleaning up debris in the French Quarter wearing nothing but a paper mask (attachment 1). The very next day, the front page of the Washington Post shows other contractors, also in the French Quarter, wearing complete protective suits and respirators (attachment 2).

Why are some contractors given respirators and protective suits but not others? Many of the emergency responders who worked at the World Trade Center were not issued respirators to protect themselves from the toxic fires that burned for months at the site. Now, approximately 75 percent of them are sick, and some have already died. We cannot allow the government to once again send recovery workers into harm’s way without adequate protection.

In August 2003, the EPA Inspector General (IG) investigated the agency’s response to the September 11 attacks. The IG report found that the limited, unscientific cleanup of selected sites around Ground Zero performed by EPA did not comply with federal laws that govern protection of the public health and environment. The IG report also found disturbing evidence that the White House instructed the EPA to downplay post-9/11 air quality and public health concerns in New York City. I fear that similar negligence and shoddiness will characterize the recovery in New Orleans in the absence of steady leadership and accountability.

It has been reported that you put Karl Rove in charge of the recovery operation (New York Times, September 14, 2005). Do his responsibilities include environmental remediation? If so, what qualifications does Mr. Rove possess that would justify putting him in charge of the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of Americans? If not, who is the individual ultimately in charge of the environmental remediation process?

Despite recent qualified statements from the federal government that the environment is hazardous, EPA has still released very little information regarding the extent of the contamination, and exactly what the agency is doing to follow its federally mandated procedures and protect the health of the public and emergency responders.

The following questions must be answered to restore public confidence in the federal government’s handling of the recovery from Hurricane Katrina:

· Has EPA carried out an environmental assessment – not just spot samples – of the entire affected area, including sampling the soil, water and air for all pathogens and hazardous substances?
· Has EPA determined risk for all pathways of exposure – inhalation, ingestion and direct contact?
· Has EPA tested for any specific bacteria, viruses, or fungi other than E. coli?
· Has EPA conducted a hazard ranking of the affected area in accordance with the regulations and procedures under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act and the National Contingency Plan?
· Has EPA released all sampling data to the public, including a detailed sampling plan, detection limits and quality assurance documentation?
· Has EPA initiated any action to hold liable oil and chemical companies that have released toxic chemicals into the environment, or to assist with the cleanup of industrial releases?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” please provide an adequate explanation.

There are also many unanswered questions about how people returning to the Gulf Coast are supposed to follow government advice given the limitations of the infrastructure:

· The federal government recommends immediately washing any part of the body that comes into contact with the contaminated water or dirt. Where can people in areas with unsafe tap water find uncontaminated water?
· The federal government says the water contains unsafe levels of E. coli and lead. How will boiling the water, as recommended by the government, reduce the lead concentrations?
· How will people boil water in areas without electricity and gas?

Clearly, people should not return to the Gulf Coast until EPA does its job. After 9/11, we let people rush back into contaminated areas. It is imperative that we learn from those mistakes. If we fail to do so, more people will become sick, and possibly even die, because the federal government did not carry out its responsibilities under the law. The Environmental Protection Agency must take action immediately to protect the health of the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Thank you for attention to this matter. I look forward to a prompt and substantive response.

Sincerely,


Jerrold Nadler
Member of Congress

cc: EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson
Vice Admiral Thad W. Allen
Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco
Mayor Ray Nagin

###


Tuesday, September 20, 2005 

One of the best stories yet

Disaster News Network has a very comprehensive piece about the environmental uncertainty in New Orleans, almost from A-Z. Check it out here:

http://www.disasternews.net/news/news.php?articleid=2844


 

AP: Confusion on when New Orleans will be safe

The moral of this AP story is that because testing is so flawed and incomplete, no one knows how bad the environmental impact has been in New Orleans, or how long it will take to clean up.

Opinions in the story range from:

"It [the environmental damage] could indeed redraw the map of New Orleans..."

to

"I expect there is a good chance that much of New Orleans will be able to return largely unscathed from long-term chemical contamination..."

In the end, the only way to guarantee the damage is minimal is to do proper testing and a complete, thorough, and professional cleanup where needed.


 

What the EPA and Others Missed in New Orleans

Steve Breyman of the Citizens' Environmental Coalition has a fantastic piece up at CounterPunch about all the various contaminants in New Orleans and how the Feds missed them. This is a must read for anyone who wants to know what the environmental quality could really be.

Read the article here:
http://www.counterpunch.org/breyman09202005.html


Monday, September 19, 2005 

Nagin Suspends Return

As the song goes, the cheese now stands alone. The EPA is the only agency/person left saying there is not a significant problem if people return to New Orleans. We will have to wait to see if Nagin stays sensible after Hurrricane Rita passes.

Ray Nagin Suspends New Orleans Return

UPDATE: We have been told by people who saw the whole press conference that one of the last questions to the Mayor was whether the environment had something to do with his decision. Apparently he said something to the effect of that the first report he got from the EPA said everything was safe, but he recently got a second report that looked like lawyers wrote it to excuse the EPA from liability for their projections. He seemed pissed to say the least. If anyone can get us a source on this, it would be appreciated.


 

If Love Canal was a Fly, New Orleans is an Elephant

Today, Newsweek publishes this interview with Hugh Kaufman, who was instrumental in getting the truth out about the environmental quality in New York after the fall of the World Trade Center.

This quote is striking:

If Love Canal is a fly, then this is an elephant—in terms of environment and public-health effects.


 

Bush Questions Return to New Orleans, cites environmental concerns

Well, even a Democrat like me has to give props when it is due. President Bush, according to the AP, is backing up his FEMA Chief's concerns about the return to New Orleans. The AP reports:

In addition, Bush said there are significant environmental concerns. New Orleans
still lacks drinkable water, and there are fears about the contamination levels
in the remaining floodwaters and the muck left behind in drained areas of the
city.


Interesting, since the EPA and CDC keep trying to convince reporters that contamination levels are below a level of concern. Some reporters are buying it hook, line, and sinker.


 

A Tale of Two New Orleans'

(Source: AFP/ Getty)

Amazing. Government workers and pros get the full toxic suit treatment, but looks like that's not good enough for the cheap labor or civilians. Both of these pictures were taken around the same time in the French Quarter. So why are some getting moon suits to wear, while others are left to inhale whatever is around??



(Source: Reuters)


 

EPA Shuts Out Press, Public on New Orleans

Two editorials hit the nail on the head today about the EPA. The agency is refusing to release some test results or honor Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by journalists. It is therefore impossible to really tell what the quality of the air, soil, and water is, or the long term effects of exposure to the toxic contaminants in that area could be.

Check out the editorials in The Ledger and the Houston Chronicle.


Sunday, September 18, 2005 

Safety Tips for Returning to New Orleans


If you or someone you know is returning to New Orleans, here are some helpful hints to protect yourself from the possible toxic environment. Remember, FEMA Director Allen is saying troops are treating the area like a toxic environment, and you should do the same:


  • If you might get wet from the water, cover your body with water proof gear.

  • Wear rubber gloves and goggles.
  • Always wash, especially your hands, with strong soap.
  • If you are in areas that the air has a smell, wear a tight fitting respirator with cartridges that will protect your lungs from spores and volatile organic compounds.
  • Drink only bottled water and insure that any food you eat may not have come into contact with toxic dust or water.
  • Make sure anything you wash (e.g. utensils, plates, clothing) is washed in safe water.
  • Do not wash clothing that may have been contaminated with uncontaminated clothing.
For more information on choosing the right protective gear, visit the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's website on the matter here.

Of course, the 100% sure way to stay safe is to stay away from the area until validated testing is done that declares the area safe to return to.


Saturday, September 17, 2005 

Hooray for... FEMA?

Yes, the same FEMA that had bungled the rescue operation for weeks is now acting more responsibly (perhaps because they bungled the rescue operation for weeks and have to do the right thing now).

New FEMA Director Allen is calling out Mayor Nagin on his decision to send people back into the area, citing, among other things, the health threat. The AP reports:


NEW ORLEANS - The mayor of New Orleans has set up an "extremely problematic" timeline for allowing residents to return to the evacuated city, which is still threatened by a weakened levee system, a lack of drinkable water and heavily polluted floodwaters, the head of the federal relief effort said Saturday.


Not only that, Mayor Nagin's own Homeland Security Director Terry Ebbert also seems to be separating himself from the Mayor, saying the French Quarter will be monitored "day to day" and wouldn't commit to the Mayor's promise to have people back in there within a week and a half.

Finally, FEMA is doing the right thing by taking all precautions for their people:

Allen said another concern for returning residents is the flood water that remains on the streets and in houses, the residue of which remains throughout flooded areas that are now dry and is also a health threat. Allen said troops undergo decontamination after they are done working in the water. "They are decontaminating themselves as they would if they were operating in a toxic environment," he said.


Until there is scientifically sound and validated environmental air, soil, and water testing in New Orleans and the surrounding areas, any sort of declarative statements about the quality of the environment and relative safety need to stop, and Mayor Nagin and the EPA need to tell people that if they return, they could possibly be walking into a toxic disaster that will have long-term health effects. If toxic decontamination procedures are good enough for the troops they are good enough for the citizens of the area who are being told to come back home.


 

N.O. Water is Toxic. No wait, it's not. No, wait, it is.

Another day, another set of reports that represent completely different views of the same story.

Reuters declares that yesterday findings were released that show "New Orleans is not a Toxic Gumbo." Their lede declares:

"New Orleans has not became a hazardous waste site coated in a toxic stew as originally feared, although many flooded areas are coated with a smelly sludge, experts said on Friday."


The Associated Press runs the headline, "Fuel Oils in Sediment in New Orleans." Their lede is:

"A new health risk emerged Friday from the sediment of New Orleans — test results showing that diesel and fuel oils, which can take years to break down, make up as much as a 10th of the weight of some sediment samples."


How is this possible? How can two reports draw different conclusions from the same facts? The fact of the matter is that all of the testing in New Orleans so far is not scientifically sound. As described in an earlier post, the air testing that has been done so far is non-validated, and never, ever, ever intended to sample contaminants in the air.

As for the sediment and the water, EPA administrator Johnson told the LA Times that they are having problems separating out chemicals in the water and sediment because the petroleum is just too pervasive. You can not make any definitive statements about the water like Reuters' sources did, saying "New Orleans has not become a hazardous waste site."

When chemicals cannot be sampled according to guidelines (obviously, as they admit, they couldn't accurately sample chemicals), the testing must be peer viewed to be validated. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) makes it pretty clear that it's better to be safe than to be sorry:

"All protocols, studies, and results of research that ATSDR carries out or funds in whole or in part; and studies that have not previously been peer reviewed that are intended to be used in the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry(ATSDR) Toxicological Profiles must be peer reviewed according to this policy."

http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/science/prpolicy.html

Reuters nor AP nor anyone has seen the peer-reviewed results, because I'm pretty sure they don't exist (otherwise they'd be released). Thus the testing is not validated or scientifically sound. The difference is, the Reuters story quotes a government scientist, while the AP goes outside to independent sources. Surprise, surprise, independent scientists are much more cynical of government tests than government experts.

Could people be coming back to a "toxic gumbo" this weekend because outlets like Reuters lead them to believe it is OK?

You betcha.


Friday, September 16, 2005 

EPA Admits No One Knows What is in the Air

Well, buried in a news release is this information:

As sediments begin to dry, EPA will perform air sampling to monitor potential inhalation risks and will also assess long-term exposure scenarios. (LINK)

This proves what we've been saying. No air sampling as been done, and no one knows the risk of breathing the air in New Orleans or what effect it will have! And yet, this morning, news outlets parroted the line that "tests showed the air is safe to breathe despite the putrid smell."

Further, it will take months for the sediment to dry everywhere, meaning, they'll have no real idea of how safe the air is for some time.

Our source in the media tells us that the New Orleans Department of Environmental Quality says this means people shouldn't go back to areas that were flooded. That's somewhat comical, because that would suggest the air above flooded areas has not moved at all and transported hazardous particles.


 

Who Will Pay to Clean New Orleans?

A well done piece from CBS News last evening can be found here that examines that question.

"The EPA has not done a thorough assessment of the contamination of that parish or any other parishes that have been contaminated."

-Hugh Kaufman, EPA
senior policy analyst.


This the 1st mainstream TV media piece, we're aware of, on paying for environmental clean-up from oil and hazardous material clean-up. If EPA does not do an environmental damage assessment, the taxpayers and the home and property owners may end up paying for environmental clean-up costs. Not the oil company or the insurance companies.

If you watch the piece, note that the workers cleaning the streets are not wearing respirators to protect themselves from the cancer causing material that is in the air. Sadly, this is a scene that has, and will, be repeated in the affected areas all over the gulf. This happened in New York after 9/11 and now 70% of the first responders are sick and some have now died from the toxic exposure.

When the Feds don't do their job, the little guys can suffer and die. Shameful.


 

Toxins Could be Around for YEARS

Great piece on Bloomberg News right now, just chocked full of good stuff. Read the entire story here. But here is the money quote:

The flooded areas include more than 60 chemical plants, oil refineries and
petroleum storage facilities, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
records. The full extent of the damage won't come into complete focus until the
water that swamped 80 percent of the city is pumped out, a process the Army
Corps of Engineers says may take until mid-October.


``It's a nightmare,'' said Jay Grimes, director of the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. ``There's so much unknown material in that water. You have to assume there's a lot of toxic material. Some of it could stick around for months or years.''


We simply don't know what chemicals and toxic materials are in that water and sludge or how long it will take to properly clean it up. Every time it is distrupted, it is released into the air. When it dries and becomes dusty, it will be released into the air even more.

Real testing must be done before people can be told it's safe to come back.


 

The air is safe to breathe...

New York

"Well, if there's any good news out of all this it's that everything we've tested for, which includes asbestos, lead, and VOC's, have been below any level of concern for the general public health. " - EPA Administrator Whitman, 9/13/2001 in New York

Yet, that wasn't good enough for the EPA itself, which tested and found high levels of contaminants at the EPA's home at 290 Broadway, so the building was evacuated and professionally abated.



New Orleans

"The plan to reopen came a day after government tests showed that New Orleans' putrid air is safe to breathe..." - Associated Press, Sept 16.

But apparently not safe enough for the Nagin family. Ray Nagin Buys Home in Dallas, Moves Family There.


Thursday, September 15, 2005 

The Toxic Stew

So EPA testing isn't showing a whole lot of chemicals coming up in their testing. Check out this handy-dandy set of links from the National Environmental Trust.

LINK 1 is a chart from 2003 showing toxic chemical data in the New Orleans area by parish

LINK 2 is a chart showing toxic chemical data by chemical

So that's what was all around New Orleans. Yet EPA's testing doesn't detect most of these chemicals?


 

New Orleans is going to breathe again... breathe WHAT?!


New Orleans Mayor Nagin says beginning this weekend they are going to start allowing hundreds of thousands back into the area. He says "New Orleans will breathe again."

Breathe what? The testing performed of the air in the area was done by an ASPECT plane, that uses infrared to screen for air pollution. It is not intended to sample and measure levels of harmful substances in the air after a disaster.

The EPA's own website states, "All data produced through the use of the ASPECT (Airborne Spectral imagery of Environmental Contaminants Technology) are non-validated and are used by EPA and other agencies for screening purposes only to assess immediate environmental hazards. "

Mayor Nagin and the EPA have no idea if the air is really safe. As areas have water pumped out and sludge containing chemicals and heavy metals are left, they can be easily introduced into the air via dust, making the air quality even worse than it already is.

We wonder if anyone has asked the EPA and Mayor Nagin if they considered this, and if so, why they think the area is safe to repopulate?


 

A TALE OF TWO CITIES


If you’re in Chicago, New Orleans is safe! But wait, if you’re in Los Angeles, New Orleans could be a very dangerous place to return to. Washington, DCers think everything is fine, but New Yorkers can’t be so sure. What gives? Depending on what morning paper you get, the story about New Orleans’ environmental integrity is completely varied.

Just take a look at the headlines:

“Finally, good news for Big Easy: EPA OKs city air; Bush aides pin hopes on speech”
-Chicago Tribune (subscription required)

“Toxic Threat Still Vague but Ominous, EPA Says: Health risks are many but the measurements are inconclusive, agency chief says. Some contend the tests are inadequate.”
- Los Angeles Times

“Floods' Pollutants Within the Norm: Oil Spills Seen as the Only Exception”
- Washington Post (subscription required)

“E.P.A. Struggles to Determine Extent of Hazards in Sludge”
- The New York Times (subscription required)

What’s this all mean? It means EPA testing of the flood waters in the region shows no danger for a lot of chemicals and heavy metals, but only does so because the testing is seriously flawed. One simple way of proving the testing is seriously lacking credibility is that all test samples showed zero presence of benzene, a key ingredient in oil and gasoline. Anyone with a set of eyeballs can see the oil sheen on top of the water, and anyone who knows something about the area knows much of the economy is based on the petroleum industry. No one argues that oil spills were heavy.

So why didn’t benzene show up in the testing? Again, depends what paper you are reading. According to the New York Times, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said “early tests did not look for hazardous petrochemical byproducts like benzene because the presence of oil and gasoline was obvious.”

Oh. OK. But if you look at the test results here it says benzene was “sampled but not found.”

So, let’s check that, then. The Los Angeles Times reports the EPA didn’t find benzene because, Johnson said, “petroleum residue has been absorbed into the dirt. [Johnson] said the soil and other sediment contain so much petroleum-based material that it is hard to isolate specific compounds in the tests.”

How is it possible that Stephen Johnson said they did and they didn’t test for benzene at the same time? Because that’s the name of the game for the EPA these days. Confuse, confound, cover-up. The more they can spin the real story into a confusing mess for reporters, the more likely it will be that reporters will throw up their hands and simply report the agency’s party line. Unfortunately, the agency long ago gave up on its mission to protect the public health, and took up a new mission to make the administration it serves look good and protect the corporate interests that are “friendly” to it. Sadly, there are few reporters left willing to do what it takes to really challenge the EPAs steady stream of bull.

The EPA will come up with 20 excuses a day as to why they cannot find benzene and other contaminants that everyone knows is in the water and the sludge that will be left to dry out. But the bottom line will be the same – those harmful chemicals “weren’t found.” In this way, the President can oversee a quick return to an appearance of normalcy, and the petroleum and chemical companies that would normally be held financially liable for the clean up will get off scott-free. Meanwhile, the poor people of New Orleans will be sent back to live on what may qualify as a Superfund site.


 

A Lesson from the Big Apple to the Big Easy

Check out this post on Huffington Post that draws some scary comparisons between the aftermath of 9.11 to the aftermath of New Orleans. Is history repeating itself?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-schmeltzer/a-warning-from-the-big-ap_b_7345.html


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  • 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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