On the Ground in New Orleans
An NRDC Fact-finding Mission, October 2005
In New Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes, we noticed hundreds of downed telephone poles -- many snapped like matchsticks by the hurricane -- that still had electrical transformers attached. Some of the older transformers may contain toxic chemicals such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls, a hazardous group of chemicals which can cause serious long-term health effects at relatively low levels of exposure). A transformer leak could cause long-lasting soil contamination. It was difficult to determine whether any of the transformers had leaked. In one location, we saw workers collecting a transformer for removal.
In various parts of the city we saw unlabeled 55-gallon metal drums -- dozens of them over all -- lying in mud or water. At least some of these drums probably leaked; depending on their contents they may have leaked hazardous materials.
We also visited an industrial site located at a former hazardous waste site at Bayou Bienvenue. The location -- including a large diesel fueling station surrounded by destroyed 18-wheelers -- was still under water. A nearby pipeline appeared to be damaged by debris from the storm. The extent of contamination was impossible to determine by eye, and no EPA sampling data are available from this site. Many toxic waste and industrial sites in the New Orleans area flooded and the contaminants on the sites were likely to have been released and spread to nearby areas. -- GS
Photos all pages: Erik Olson and Gina Solomon
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