Community Data Needs Bring Me Back to the Gulf Coast

I drove into New Orleans today in the pouring rain and as the trees blew sideways and the streets turned into rivers of water, I was reminded of the images from Hurricane Katrina.  But, unlike my previous trips to this area, this visit isn’t about the floods that engulfed the city. As one of my local colleagues wryly noted, “This region didn’t have time to catch its breath”. Just in time for the 5th anniversary of Katrina, the Gulf Region is facing another environmental disaster that threatens community health. 

In the aftermath of Katrina, when my colleagues at NRDC offered assistance to local groups, there was a huge clamor for data.  People were worried and needed information on the health threats facing their communities.  As a scientist, I worked with a group at NRDC and local partners to translate the data from agencies and, where needed, conduct our own testing

Some things haven’t changed.

Communities across the Gulf Region are worried about the health of their families and the viability of their future.  They are struggling to find answers in government reports and frustrated that their questions are going unanswered.  Reports of illnesses among folks working to clean-up the oil and those living on shore are starting to mount.

Some lessons have been learned.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting monitoring and much of that data is available on the website. Summaries and interpretation of this data are also available on my colleague’s blog. Local groups are coalescing to share resources and get information; including drawing upon the expertise of Alaskan communities who were impacted by the Exxon Valdez spill and creating a website to collect information on where people are feeling the impacts of the spill. 

Over the next few days, I hope to lend my technical expertise to these efforts to measure, document, and inform. And as the oil keeps spewing and the slick moves closer, all of these resources will be needed and much, much more…