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September 19, 2005
Volume 83, Number 38
p. 7


Pollution Check

Environmental agency is analyzing mud, water, and air in devastated areas

Cheryl Hogue

The Environmental Protection Agency is scrutinizing soil, water, and air for contamination in areas struck by Hurricane Katrina, agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson announced last week.

In New Orleans, EPA found high levels of fecal bacteria, lead, hexavalent chromium, and arsenic in standing floodwaters, Johnson said. Federal and state scientists are tracking pollution levels in Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico as tainted water gets pumped out of the city's inundated districts, he continued. The Coast Guard is responding to several oil spills in the area.

EPA also is sampling the mud left in New Orleans. Analysis of this sediment for pollutants such as metals and pesticides is difficult, Johnson said, because the mud is heavily laden with petroleum products.

The agency's Science Advisory Board is conducting emergency reviews of EPA's plans for initial sampling of air, water, and sediment. On Sept. 13, board members warned the agency that it faces political pressure to use results of these early tests to decide whether residents can return to their properties. Board members recommend that, from the outset, EPA should clearly state whether those data are simply for determining which pollutants are present or whether the information can be used for public safety decisions.

Meanwhile, Johnson said that, amid the debris left by Katrina, EPA has recovered some 5,000 containers of hazardous materials ranging from gas cylinders to drums of medical waste. In addition, the agency is assessing the status of 31 Superfund sites affected by the hurricane.

The agency is monitoring air quality in storm-ravaged areas with specially equipped aircraft and buses, Johnson said, and EPA is helping to restore drinking water and to repair damaged sewage treatment plants.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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