2/17 - EPA Studies.
Annoying to navigate, but informative. Push them to do more testing!
Article with Commentary at end.
September 21, 2006
Experts at odds on Katrina effect
By Ana RadelatClarion-Ledger Washington Bureau
It didn't take long for a group of Hurricane Katrina rescue workers to seek medical help last year after their boat capsized in New Orleans, plunging them into the storm's fetid floodwaters.
"Disgusting does not even describe what that water was like," Darren White, a sheriff from New Mexico, said recently.
A local doctor prescribed Cipro, a strong antibiotic, for White and other members of the Bernalillo County sheriff's department.
"I don't know what you guys have been exposed to, but it's not good," White recalled the doctor saying.
A year after the storm, debate over Katrina's environmental and health impacts still rages.
The Environmental Protection Agency and state environmental agencies say it's safe for storm victims to return home.
"We don't see anything there that possesses a long-term health threat," said Sam Coleman, a senior EPA official in Dallas.
But environmentalists and some scientists say Katrina's unprecedented 25-foot surge spread dangerous sediment - especially arsenic, lead and benzo(a)pyrene, a carcinogen - from the Mississippi River and other bodies of water and caused chemical and oil spills that have poisoned the region.
Wilma Subra, a chemist with an environmental consulting firm in New Iberia, La., says state and federal health officials are dismissing symptoms - like skin rashes and antibiotic-resistant infections - that she says are caused by toxins like arsenic.
"They're in denial - overwhelmingly," Subra said. "Because it would cost too much money to address the problem."
Subra says Katrina may leave a legacy of miscarriages, birth defects and cancer that won't be revealed right away.
Both sides say they have science on their side.
The EPA and other government agencies have conducted hundreds of tests of the area's soil, water and air. With the exception of a few hot spots - the site of an oil spill in St. Bernard's Parish, La., and a Superfund site in New Orleans - they found no cause for concern.
"We believe there are no unacceptable long-term health risks directly attributable to hurricanes Katrina and Rita," Thomas Sinks, a deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote in a letter last month to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Subra also has tested dozens of soil samples. She came up with the same results as the government, but came to very different conclusions.
"The difference is in the interpretation," she said.
Subra says fertilizer-laced sludge tinged with industrial chemicals that the storm spread across hundreds of miles of coastline and throughout New Orleans is still dangerous. She worries the toxic sludge is turning into dust that local residents will inhale.
Environmentalists agree that the hurricane has left a toxic legacy.
"I don't think it's very credible or believable to say there's no environmental impact of Katrina," said Becky Gillette of the Mississippi chapter of the Sierra Club.
In a new report, the Sierra Club chides the EPA for taking spot samples instead of carrying out a more comprehensive study. The report also criticizes the agency for failing to test Katrina-flooded homes for toxins.
Coleman said the EPA lacks the authority to inspect private property. And he said he believes most homes can be made safe if they're gutted to remove mold and other possible dangers.
The debate likely will continue.
EPA officials note that the soil in New Orleans contained lead - thanks to old buildings covered with lead-based paint - even before the storm.
But Steven Presley, assistant professor of environment toxicology at Texas Tech University, also tested sediment, water and animals in the Gulf Coast area and found elevated levels of arsenic and lead.
He's ready to release findings that show about a dozen of the 40 schools he studied had elevated levels of lead. He says he can prove the lead definitely came from Katrina.
"I'm not saying the sky is falling, but let's just look at this closer," Presley said.
Commentary by Sidney Ray - Relief Spark - www.reliefspark.org
Post Spring Break, I had the opportunity to have a long discussion with a representative at FEMA. This lady also sits on the Board of Directors for The Red Cross.
Our discussion revolved around safety precautions for volunteers. In our hour long conversation she told me that FEMA has conducted their own testing and many homes in New Orleans have toxic black mold, arsenic, high levels of lead and asbestos. She said that due the age of many homes in the area, they are not safe to enter.
She went on to tell me that FEMA doesn’t want volunteers out here helping – because they are concerned that in less than 5 years and as long as 10-15 years that many volunteers will come down with a long-term illness or disease that yet to be identified.
Please understand that our phone conversation was supportive of the volunteer work – but she said to me that “many non-profits don’t provide safety gear to their volunteers nor are the volunteers wearing the safety gear that is provided to them.” “It is our biggest concern.”
It is mandatory that ALL Relief Spark volunteers gutting houses wear ALL the safety gear that is provided to them or else they won’t be allowed to gut houses with Relief Spark.
The health of each volunteer should be the non-profits biggest concern. It is a liability for non-profits to not encourage volunteers to wear such safety gear. If a volunteer falls ill – they will be hunting down the non-profit they volunteered with……first.
I speak from experience: volunteers should wear air respirator masks at ALL times except when taking a break – ACROSS THE STREET from the house gutting job. Once volunteers begin gutting, mold spores and asbestos are in the air. If a Volunteer is not wearing an air respirator (not a N95 – those don’t do the job), the volunteer runs the risk of a lung infection and perhaps even cancer later in life.
Back in January I assessed many houses before we began gutting. I walked through houses and didn’t wear my air respirator. I am now paying the price.
My nose bleeds or has dried blood every morning. A FEMA medical doctor diagnosed me with a mold allergy. Never before had I experienced any allergy symptoms!
Last spring I was in the hospital two different times for health issues having to do with my ovaries and kidney. I believe a combination of stress and environment played their part.
I don’t want to be in late 30’s with or without children and too sick to get out of bed.
Non-Profits: offer safety gear to your volunteers and make them wear it – make it your policy
Volunteers: bring your own safety gear or wear the safety gear that is provided to you
Here is a list of what is required by Relief Spark for each volunteer (retail value: $100.00):
-steel toe boots
-nitrile gloves under working suede gloves
-(1) Tyvek suit per day of gutting
-protective eyewear (i.e. goggles)
-MSA air respirator
*Everything but the Steel Toe Boots can be purchased at Home Depot. The boots are available at Wal-Mart.
NOLA Operations Director
-VOLUNTEER OR DONATE TO “OPERATION 100 HOMES IN 100 DAYS” – LAUNCHING OCTOBER 01.2006-
Log onto: www.reliefspark.org/projects.html for more information!
www.reliefspark.org – www.myspace.com/reliefspark - view updated images!
email@example.com – email
310.270.3332 – office
504.617.6329 - fax