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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Toxic Soup

Here's the latest...

Tests of the water that has flooded the streets of New Orleans are likely to shows traces of everything imaginable. "Go home and identify all the chemicals in your house. It's a very long list," said Ivor van Heerden, an expert studying the public health impact of hurricanes. "And that's just in a home. Imagine what's in an industrial plant," he said. "Or a sewage plant." That mix could contain gasoline, diesel, anti-freeze, bleach, human waste, acids, alcohols and any number of other substances, and must be washed out of homes, factories, refineries, hospitals and other buildings. And the longer the water sits, the greater the chance gasoline and chemical tanks could rupture and add to the mess.
Three people have died from bacterial infections in Gulf states after Hurricane Katrina, and tests confirm that the water flooding New Orleans is a stew of sewage-borne bacteria, federal officials said on Wednesday. A fourth person in the Gulf region is suspected to be infected with Vibrio vulnificus, a common marine bacteria, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Julie Gerberding told reporters, citing reports from state health officials in Mississippi and Texas. [...] Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson said all the tests of waters in flooded residential areas of New Orleans exceeded by at least 10 times the safe levels of E. coli and other so-called coliform bacteria, found in the human gut and used as an indicator of sewage contamination. They also have high levels of lead.
Christian Science Monitor:
For now, some environmental regulations are being waived in order to address immediate problems. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality issued the naval base in Chalmette a variance so it could burn debris, mostly food that spoiled after losing power. The US Environmental Protection Agency has waived the need for Clean Water Act permits to allow the pumping of polluted water out of New Orleans into Lake Pontchartrain. US Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt has declared a public health emergency in five states: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. There's no telling when wastewater treatment and other sanitary facilities will become functional. More than 500 sewage plants were damaged or destroyed in Louisiana, including 25 major ones.
What about the risks to wildlife and the environment? The water being pumped out of New Orleans is going into Lake Ponchartrain. Because of the raw sewage and other biological material in it, it will be very heavy in nutrients. Scientists say this likely will cause fish kills, because that water will lack the oxygen that fish and other creatures need to survive. But state officials say they hope that over time, the lake will be able to cure itself, and then fish and other wildlife will be restored.
This laxed approach to pumping toxic sludge into our rivers, lakes, and oceans, is alarming to say the least. There has got to be a better solution. Any ideas?

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