WASHINGTON - December 5 - New soil samples taken in Mississippi and Alabama communities hit by Hurricane Katrina show dangerous levels of pollution, including arsenic,
heavy metals, dioxin and E. Coli. The tests, conducted by award-winning
chemist Wilma Subra, showed that many of the pollution problems that continue to haunt New Orleans are prevalent throughout the entire Gulf Region.
"The sediment sludge carried on the land by the storm surge is contaminated by heavy metals and a host of microorganisms, all of which are known to cause acute and chronic impacts on public health," said Wilma Subra. "There is a need to determine extent of that contamination and establish a plan to remove the contaminants in order to prevent residents and workers from being harmfully exposed."
The results showed high levels of arsenic at nearly every site tested in all three states with the highest levels at the Bay Bridge in Alabama more than 90 times higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency deems safe. The highest arsenic levels in Mississippi were at Moss Point on Elder Ferry Road near the site of the former Rohm & Haas chemical plant, Big Lake in Gulfport, and Pearlington in Hancock County. All three sites were 27 times over the EPA arsenic limits.
There were also unsafe levels of arsenic near the DeLisle Elementary School near the DuPont chemical plant in Mississippi's Harrison County. Testing also showed unsafe levels of dioxin, barium, chromium, lead and mercury at the school and immediately outside the chemical plant as well. Ongoing local concerns about pollution from the DuPont DeLisle facility worsened after Katrina buried the plant at least 7 to 9 feet of floodwaters, but EPA has not done any testing at the plant itself or at the schools and residences nearby.
"There are around 1,200 students at DeLisle Elementary, many of them brought in from other schools that were damaged or destroyed by Katrina," said Becky Gillette, co-chair of the Sierra Club's Mississippi Chapter. "The EPA and Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality should step up to protect the safety of these children by conducting additional testing to determine if exposing the students to these soils causes long-term health hazards."
In addition to other types of toxic heavy metal contamination, Subra found very elevated levels of bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella, staphylococcus, yeast and mold in throughout all three states.
"We tested a layer of sludge that was not there prior to Hurricane Katrina. The sludge was dry, but the organisms were still viable," said Subra. "Some government officials feel that once the sludge dries up, the organisms are dead. But that isn't the case here. When people are out walking in their yards and streets, they are inhaling these particles that contain microorganisms that are still unsafe."
Dr. Peter L. deFur of Environmental Stewardship Concepts, which has extensive experience with similar health assessments, expressed concern that "once the sludge dries, it can become airborne dust, carrying with it the metals and pathogens." He added that those facing the greatest risk of dust exposure are children, who are lower to the ground, and people, such as cleanup workers, who are exerting themselves and breathing hard.
The Sierra Club is urging the EPA to conduct additional testing outside the fence line of the DuPont chemical facility, in residential areas and in schools. Air conditioning filters inside schools that have not been replaced since Katrina should be analyzed then replaced with new ones. Experts at LEAN also suggest that residents returning to these neighborhoods avoid contact with this layer of contaminated sludge and caution seniors, small children and pregnant women to stay away from these areas entirely. It is also recommended that residents obtain recovery kits that include Tyvek suits, respirators, gloves, smocks and other protective equipment before returning to these areas.
The results were made public today during a press teleconference hosted by the Sierra Club in partnership with Subra, Dr. Peter deFur of Environmental Stewardship Concepts, and Marylee Orr, Executive Director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN).
The independent testing was funded by a grant from the Jennifer Altman Foundation and processed by Altamont Environmental Inc. of Asheville, NC. The results may be viewed in their entirety at: http://www.sierraclub.org/gulfcoast/testing.
For more information about how Katrina impacted the DuPont DeLisle chemical plant, visit: http://www.sunherald.com/mld/sunherald/news/13317843.htm
In addition, the American Diabetes Association has published research into the connections between diabetes mellitus and environmental toxics, namely arsenic and dioxin. That research can be found at: http://spectrum.diabetesjournals.org/cgi/content/full/15/2/109
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health collaborated on an international study that linked arsenic exposure to reduced intellectual function in children. More information is available at: http://www.mailman.hs.columbia.edu/news/arsenic-water-graziano.html