Rebuilding New Orleans
New testing shows that residents are returning to neighborhoods and schools contaminated with arsenic.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the floodwaters that swamped New Orleans swept oil, diesel and toxic chemicals from gas stations, industrial sites and toxic waste dumps into residential neighborhoods. Today, residents are still returning to communities laced with hazardous pollution. The latest round of NRDC environmental testing in New Orleans shows that several areas of the city -- including schools and playgrounds -- contain high levels of arsenic in the soil.
The flooding appears to have spread long-buried arsenic from pesticides or industrial processes, or from the muck at the bottom of the canals and Lake Pontchartrain, throughout the city and onto the surface of the soil, where people -- especially young children -- can easily touch it, breathe it, or get in their mouths. NRDC found six schools and two playgrounds sitting on arsenic hotspots -- areas where the level of arsenic exceeds environmental cleanup guidelines. Arsenic can cause cancer, birth defects, neurological disorders and other serious health problems.
More sampling is needed to determine the full scope of the contamination and the extent of the health risk. The EPA and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) have not taken responsibility for cleaning up the soil in contaminated neighborhoods. Until cleanup occurs, NRDC suggests that concerned residents take precautions to protect themselves and their families. (See the full health advisory.)
The latest tests are part of NRDC's ongoing partnership with communities in New Orleans to ensure that the Katrina recovery process is safe, fair and transparent. Weeks after Katrina hit, an NRDC scientific team was on the ground in New Orleans, assessing the environmental impacts of the hurricane in the absence of information from the EPA.
NRDC, in collaboration with our local partners, continues to conduct environmental testing in the area and keep residents apprised of potential health threats. At the same time, we are pushing state and federal environmental authorities to do their job: to remove toxic sediment and contaminated soil from the streets and yards of affected Gulf Coast communities; to test water quality and ensure a clean water supply; and to monitor air quality and keep citizens informed of any concerns. In addition to addressing immediate threats, NRDC is working with federal, state and local agencies to ensure that the rebuilding process embraces public involvement, is environmentally safe, equitable, and will create a secure future for the Gulf Coast.
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