Environmentalists analyzing governmental and independent soil test data from New Orleans are appalled that the government has allowed people to return, albeit briefly, to certain of the hardest hit neighborhoods in recent weeks. Erik Olson of the non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) believes that government officials have been “grossly misleading the public” by not warning former inhabitants returning to collect belongings that their property may well still be contaminated by heavy metals and banned pesticides left behind after the hurricane-induced late summer flooding.
“The cancer risk and the risk of other long-term health effects is quite significant according to (federal) standards,” said Gina Solomon, the physician who is leading the research and analysis for NRDC.
Meanwhile, officials at the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dispute the charges, saying they were surprised that the pollution left behind by Katrina wasn’t worse. “We are all becoming more comfortable with what we are seeing as the data come in,” said Tom Harris of the LDEQ. He added that while a few spots around town tested high in contaminants, most of the city remained safe for people.
Wherein the truth lies is anybody’s guess. But environmentalists would rather be safe than sorry. “This isn’t an isolated problem,” Solomon added. “It spans the entire city, every area where the floodwaters touched
. These all will require action in order to protect health, especially as families contemplate moving back into these areas. We want to make sure they’re safe.”