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Daily News Archive
From December 14, 2005                                                                                                           

Controversy Over Needed Cleanup in New Orleans
(Beyond Pesticides, December 14, 2005)
Last week, after testing hundreds of soil and air samples for toxic levels of arsenic, petroleum, pesticide and other contaminants, federal and state government officials declared the majority of New Orleans as safe to live in. National and local environmental groups disagree and are demanding government clean up contaminated sludge and provide protective gear to residents.

The EPA and Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality noted that there are some localized areas with levels of arsenic, diesel and oil that exceed Louisiana’s and EPA’s allowable residential risk exposure limits. Of the 145 sediment sample locations where risk levels are exceeded, some by as much as 30 times, only 14 were resampled to determine current conditions.

The risk areas encompass some 1,800 properties in St. Bernard Parish plus four additional sites in New Orleans, according to The Times-Picayune. Of the 14 resampled sites, four still exceeded acceptable levels, mostly in Orleans Parish. But says EPA, “although the levels in these four samples exceed RECAP values, they fall within a risk range of 1 in 1,000,000 and 1 in 10,000 of an individual developing cancer over a lifetime of exposure to those concentrations, which EPA has found acceptable in other contexts.”

Several environmental groups including the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and others criticize the officials for having insufficient information to make such wide claims of safety. By claiming the area safe, EPA will not likely plan or schedule clean up of the contaminated sediment.

Environmental chemist, Wilma Subra, working with LEAN, analyzed EPA’s sediment sample results for heavy metals, pesticides and others contaminants. In Louisiana, she said, 92 percent exceeded EPA’s residential allowable limit of 0.39 ppm. In the Ninth ward, samples were 74 times the EPA standard and 2.5 times higher than the much lower Louisiana standard (12.0 pmm) of acceptable risk. She also noted that EPA is not considering inhalation, ingestion, and dermal exposure in determining the toxicity of the sediment.

EPA has stated that it only resampled 14 sites because sediments of sufficient depth were not available to sample in the other 131. Despite high levels of carcinogenic and other contamination in 144 sites, “EPA stopped testing,” said Eric Olson, senior attorney of NRDC. “The reason they gave was that they couldn’t scrape up enough sediment to test, which of course is absurd.”

Environmental groups say they want people to come back to New Orleans but say returning residents must return to safety and be protected from harmful exposure. There needs to be significant clean up and avoidance of exposure, they say.

The hurricanes must tell us something about ourselves and the societies we create, said Anne Rolfes, executive director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. Not just is good clean up of these sites mandatory, but we also must to reassess the use of these contaminants in the first place.

For more information, see a Summary of EPA Sediment Testing Results by NRDC.

TAKE ACTION: To get involved or find out ways you or your organization can get involved, contact Beyond Pesticides or LEAN. Environmental groups are asking people to contact FEMA and EPA and demand that testing of contaminated areas be reinstituted immediately, to clean up contaminated areas and to provide protective gear to current and returning residents involved in any part of the clean up or in hazardous areas