My wife and I were discussing tonight how many residents of New Orleans would return after the flood waters recede and the city becomes habitable once again. We’ve both heard NPR interviews with survivors who fled to Texas and other places and invariably they say: “I have relatives here [in Texas] and no reason to return” or “I’ve got relatives in [name a town other than New Orleans] and that’s where I’m going” or “My husband and I have found jobs here. Why would we go back?”
I’m not arguing that they’re right. I hope people go back and make New Orleans as great a place as it was (or greater) before the hurricane. But can it ever have such greatness if it doesn’t solve some huge problems? Who will want to buy a home in any of the neighborhoods hardest hit by the hurricane and subsequent flooding unless the levees are repaired and new systems put into place to protect the town’s most vulnerable neighborhoods?
MediaChannel.org turned me on to an amazing article in the Independent in which its reporter somehow got a long-time EPA official to reveal the scandalous story that the environmental situation there is far more toxic and dangerous than any federal official or agency has so far revealed. Here are some of the more frightening passages:
Hugh Kaufman, an expert on toxic waste and responses to environmental disasters at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)… said the clean-up needed to be “the most massive public works exercise ever done” adding: “It will take 10 years to get everything up and running and safe.”
Mr Kaufman claimed the Bush administration was playing down the need for a clean-up: the EPA has not been included in the core White House group tackling the crisis. “Its budget has been cut and inept political hacks have been put in key positions,” Mr Kaufman said. “All the money for emergency response has gone to buy guns and cowboys – which don’t do anything when a hurricane hits. We were less prepared for this than we would have been on 10 September 2001.”
He said the water being pumped out of the city was not being tested for pollution and would damage Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi river, and endanger people using it downstream…
The pollution was far worse than had been admitted, he said, because his agency was failing to take enough samples and was refusing to make public the results of those it had analysed. “Inept political hacks” running the clean-up will imperil the health of low-income migrant workers by getting them to do the work.
Other US sources spelt out the extent of the danger from one of America’s most polluted industrial areas, known locally as “Cancer Alley”. The 66 chemical plants, refineries and petroleum storage depots churn out 600m lb of toxic waste each year. Other dangerous substances are in site storage tanks or at the port of New Orleans. No one knows how much pollution has escaped through damaged plants and leaking pipes into the “toxic gumbo” now drowning the city. Mr Kaufman says no one is trying to find out.
How many tourists will flock to a city which cannot guarantee its public health? How many New Orleans residents who have a choice would want to return to such an environment until their safety could be guaranteed? People don’t play Russian roulette with their health. And do you think–given the federal government performance to date–that any federal agency can give such assurances and be believed?
Finally, I don’t know if Hugh Kaufman is right. Perhaps the environmental danger isn’t as bad as he’s making it out to be and further testing will prove this. But this guy “has been with EPA since it was founded 35 years ago and helped set up its hazardous waste program.” My guess is that you doubt him at your peril.
For an even more comprehensive discussion of the EPA penchant for secrecy in the midst of this disaster read: Americans need EPA Answers Now at the Society of Environmental Journalists site.
The bitter irony is that the reason why N.O. wasn’t flood-proofed 20 years ago is because environmentalists sued the Army Corps of Engineers in court, arging that the occasional flood was beneficial. The matter was tied up for so long, the Army eventually gave up.
Also: many monitoring stations (http://www.deq.state.la.us/) were knocked out by Katrina, so it is probably unfair to insinuate that data is deliberately being withheld from the public. The quality of stories in The Independent varies widely with the quality of the journalist, and I know nothing about this one.
So let me commit peril! You may, of course, do what you like with my comments. In turn, I may choose never to visit your site again. Choose!
Richard Silverstein says
Solomon2: Blaming the New Orleans flood on environmentalists is absolute idiocy and is so like the hard-right including those right wing publications you link to. You apparently neglected to read the article in today’s NYT saying that the $1.5 billion spent by the Corps of Engineers in the past few years in New Orleans went almost entirely to pork barrel projects that helped the barge industry (& others) which are entirely unessential to the region’s economy or environmental health (but which have powerful political friends in Washington). And why didn’t the Corps do anything to preserve the very wetlands whose absence caused a large portion of the flood devastation? Why didn’t the Corps do more to allow the natural flow of the Mississippi to wash sediment into the wetlands so that the barrier islands would’ve been rebuilt (& thus impeded the flood)? The reason why they did none of this is that the barge industry wanted deep channels free of sediment. So the barge industry got their deep channels and the rest of New Orleans got shafted.
Whether or not monitoring stations were knocked out during the hurricane is irrelevant to Kauffman’s argument. The key question is what is EPA doing NOW. He’s saying that what little monitoring EPA is doing now isn’t being reported to the public. This in turn follows the typical Bush Adminsitration tactic of preventing the public from knowing anything about some of the most important decicisons it makes (and the most controversial as well).
I wish you would avoid melodramatics & overstatement in comments like your last one. The choice about whether you visit my site again is yours & I have no opinion on it one way or the other. That being said, I welcome most of yr. comments to my site (aside fr. the last one).
You can doubt Mr. Kauffman if you wish. But the chances that you know & understand the environmental health situation in New Orleans better than he does are nil. So I think you show hubris in placing your own judgment ahead of his.
Kaufman is quite a character, long-time whistleblower. Take his stuff with a grain of salt, but he’s sometimes right on the money. And a good background in toxics.
I’ve been trying to follow the environmental effects, too, on my Jewish environmental (etc) site, perhaps you could look at the Katrina posts:
Thanks muchly, you’ve got a fine site.