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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

NEW ORLEANS: "You can't live in this place. You can't live down here"

Salon today runs an absolutely damning story about the government's rush to get people back in the area and what they could be facing. It closes with the quote above from a woman who went back to look at her home.

We encourage everyone to read this story and send it around, along with the NRDC release below, which goes into some more detail about the situation. Returning to New Orleans without protection or for an extended stay is no joke. It could mean serious illness or death.

Some choice selections from the story (but please, read it all!)

  • Long-term risks from the pollutants now being found in and around New Orleans include cancer, birth defects, spontaneous abortions and asthma. The EPA has also underplayed the threat of mold. Health experts say trillions of mold spores, exacerbated by the late summer heat, could sicken a large population of children, people with asthma, older residents, and people with weakened immune systems, the New York Times reports.

  • Houck says some illnesses might not show up for years or may never be identified by health authorities. Katrina wiped out many impoverished communities in southern Louisiana, and often indigent people cannot afford to go to doctors. "They are going to get sick and they are not going to know why," Houck says.

  • Jean Kelly, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, says the agency would like to proceed with more caution, but allowing people to return to their homes "is not really our decision. We can advise the mayor, but it is his decision whether or not he wants to bring people back in. That is not something we have control over."

  • Some of the EPA data has confused Nagin himself. At a Sept. 19 press conference, Nagin said an EPA report to him on the danger of returning to some neighborhoods was confusing. "We also looked at the [EPA] report as it relates to flooded areas," Nagin said. "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."

  • Pressure to open New Orleans, says Kaufman of EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, is as intense today as it was on Wall Street soon after Sept. 11. "The appearance of 'back-to-normal' gets local industry going, then real estate, and so on," he says. "It's the same issue today, except that the locations and contaminants are different, and people talk with a different accent."

  • What's more, [St Bernard Parish President Steve Cannizaro] says, the parish of 68,000 residents "is one step away from being financially destroyed; businesses are flat on their ass." People need to return and start buying and building again. "You can't operate a government without taxes," he says.

  • "This is a potential catastrophe," [New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler] says today. "We don't want two catastrophes. We had maybe a thousand killed from the hurricane. You want another thousand killed because of the environment? Maybe five thousand?"

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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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