We Have the Right to Return to Healthy & Safe Neighborhoods

Date Published: 
November 1, 2005



Holding government accountable. Every resident of New Orleans has the right to return to a safe and healthy environment. This includes air that is safe to breathe, water that is safe to drink, and soil that is safe to play in .. After Katrina, the water that flooded New Orleans left behind a layer of sediment that contained a mixture of soil, sewage and toxic chemicals. In some places, this sediment still covers the ground and can be found inside peoples' homes.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and environmental organizations in Louisiana tested the sediment in many neighborhoods, and have found a number of contaminants that are dangerous to human health.
It is the responsibility of the local, state and federal governments to clean up the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina and to provide clear and accurate information so that residents may make informed choices about the health and safety of their families. In the interim, government should provide adequate protective equipment for those returning home. They are failing to do so.

This report contains a brief summary of the sediment testing results, recommendations on how to protect yourself when returning home, and a call for holding government accountable.

EPA and FEMA have the responsibility and technical know-how to clean up harmful sediment. It is their job to protect human health and the environment and they should be held accountable. They must make this cleanup the highest priority, ensuring New Orleanians the· right to return to clean and safe neighborhoods.
• Clean up contaminated soil in your neighborhood.
• Supply protective gear to returning residents and workers.
• Further investigate toxic hot spots and begin clean up immediately. • Provide safe housing for returning residents.
• Continue monitoring to ensure clean up is adequate.
Alexander S. Wells, FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer (LA): 1-800-621-3362 Sam Coleman, EPA Superfund Director: 1-800-887-6063
For more information, contact:
Advocates for Environmental Human Rights 504-919-4590 Physicians for Social Responsibility-Louisiana 504-638-1058
People's Hurricane Relief Fund 504-883-8225 www.communitylaborunited.net
To learn more about the results of sediment and air testing visit:
Natural Resources Defense Council:
Louisiana Bucket Brigade: http://www.labucketbrigade.org/katrina/index.shtml Louisiana Environmental Action Network http://LEANWEB.org (under "Katrina") Environmental Protection Agency. http://www.epa.gov/katrina
'This pamphlet was produced by the Environmental Health and Justice Work Group of the Peoples' Hurricane Relief Fund. Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, and Physicians for Social Responsibility- Los Angeles. Special thanks to the National Resources Defense Council and Wilma Subra for use of their testing data.

Testing by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and environmental organizations show unsafe levels of arsenic and chemicals from diesel fuel in the sediment that covers most of the areas of the city that flooded. In addition, the sediment in many neighborhoods is also contaminated with heavy metals such as lead, mercury, chromium, and cadmium; pesticides;- pthalates (chemicals used to soften plastics); and polyaromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs (chemicals from soot and petroleum¬based products); and other industrial chemicals.
The table below' shows some of the areas where the levels of contamination were above EPA's residential clean up standards - the levels considered safe for residents who may be exposed long term. This list is based on testing that has been done solar.

While no one can be sure what the long term health impacts from exposure to contaminated sediment will be, there is more than enough evidence of dangerous contaminants to compel state and federal agencies to remove the remaining sediment from flooded neighborhoods. Many of the substances found in the sediment have been linked to serious health problems, especially when people are. exposed to them over many years. Children, elderly people, and people with other health problems are especially vulnerable. If contaminated soil is not removed, families living in once-flooded neighborhoods may face significant health risks.

In the short-term, residents and workers may be exposed to toxic substances by inhaling dust from sediment, by getting it on their hands, or in their eyes or mouths. This kind of exposure can cause cough, irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, and skin rashes.

• Can increase risk of cancer, cause damage to the brain and i nervous system, cause harm to reproductive system
• Can increase risk of cancer
• Can increase risk of cancer, cause reproductive problems, and , organ damage
• Many ingredients can increase risk of cancer, disrupt the endocrine system, cause neurological damage, and reproductive harm
• May cause damage to the brain and nervous system, reproductive problems, and developmental disorders

• Avoid direct contact with sediment. Touching sediment with bare hands, getting it into your mouth or eyes, or breathing the dust could be hazardous.
• Wear protective clothing: respirators (rated N95 or better), vinyl or nitrile gloves, coveralls or a Tyvek suit, and covers for boots and shoes. This protective equipment can be purchased at most hardware and home-improvement stores and is fairly inexpensive.
• When you are finished with any work that puts you in contact with sediment ¬either indoors or outdoors - immediately discard your coveralls or Tyvek suit, boot or shoe covers, gloves, and disposable N95 masks. These are single-use items. Do not wear them in your car or bring them home.
• If you have asthma, other respiratory or cardiac conditions, or immune system problems, you would be safer staying out of flooded areas due to the mold, particles, and sediment that are in the air. If you must go into those areas, wear an N95 respirator at all times.

Do not bring young children into areas that were flooded. They might touch sediment and put their fingers in their mouths. Pregnant and nursing women should also use caution when entering flooded areas.