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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.


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