“Katrina Cough” Begins to Spread in New Orleans

The Los Angeles Times reports today that “Katrina Cough” has started to affect those who have returned to the City. Residents who have been exposed to toxic muck, that has turned into toxic dust, have started to complain of “sinus headaches, congestion, runny noses and sore throats,” which one doctor describes as “very prevalent” among returnees.

Yet, the EPA continues to maintain that the air is safe in New Orleans, telling the City Council that the air is no different than before Katrina. Additionally, in the LA Times story, government health agencies say there is no real longterm problem. This is, they say, simply an allergic reaction.

Where have I heard this before?

In New York, post 9/11, the EPA and other government agencies did everything within their power to downplay any health risks to those exposed to World Trade Center dust, basically calling anyone who tried to warn the public alarmist.

The comparisons are eerie. Just look at these quotes from today’s LA Times story compared to New York, post 9/11.

“Numerous factors have contributed to the public's confusion…. For example, despite the mold warnings, the government has issued repeated public assurances that the air quality in areas affected by Katrina is safe. But tests of air quality have been aimed almost entirely at toxins, such as benzene, in areas where the storm caused oil spills. There has been very little testing, officials said, of "biologicals" — namely, the airborne mold that appears to be causing much of the problem.Most state and federal officials believe there is no need for additional testing because the contamination is confined largely to houses that were flooded during the storm."It is an indoor environmental problem, primarily," said Dr. Stephen Redd, chief of the air pollution and respiratory health branch at the National Center for Environmental Health, an arm of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

“The EPA, which has conducted thousands of tests of Lower Manhattan's air since Sept. 11, has repeatedly assured residents that the air is safe to breathe. Doctors note that some symptoms could be caused or enhanced by stress -- and many will undoubtedly dissipate as the last smoldering fires go out and the air grows clearer….

Alerted to concerns about Tabb's building, he said, the project hired an independent industrial hygienist to conduct tests of surfaces there on Dec. 3, using methods published by the American Society for Testing and Materials. The tests found the presence of settled asbestos dust 555 times above the suggested acceptable level.

Asked about those results, spokesman Geoff Ryan of the city's Department of Environmental Protection said the department does not recognize this type of test, and that its own tests at the building, done on Dec. 12, had come back negative.”


“Among healthy people, the condition is not considered serious and can generally be treated with antihistamines, nasal sprays or, in the case of bacterial infections, antibiotics.”

“The Uniformed Firefighters Association estimates that about one-third of its 9,000 members suffer from "World Trade Center cough." One must wonder, though, how many of these men are simply suffering from the flu-related symptoms — it is flu season after all.

What's going on with the Tabbs and others, if not World Trade Center Syndrome? My bet is a combination of anxiety salted with hypochondria. Stress is a well-known asthma and headache trigger.”

Many reporters trusted government spin, both from Federal and City agencies. After all, these were government agencies charged with doing everything they could to protect the public health. Why in the hell would they want to downplay health risks, and endanger the public health?!

Why would the Pentagon, which is supposed to help provide for Troops and protect them continue to refuse to acknowledge things are screwed up in Iraq and our Troops need help?

In their quest to be “fair and balanced,” the press overcompensates, unfortunately. Whether it is Iraq or Gulf War Syndrome or World Trade Center cough or Katrina Cough, the media so tries to not be alarmist that it ends up being apologist. In the end, that keeps pressure off the decision makers and things don’t get done right until it is too late.

So what happened to those who had World Trade Center cough? Well, read this story from yesterday, which reads, in part:

“The latest follow-up report on lung function in New York City firefighters shows that firefighters who served in rescue efforts in the World Trade Center collapse are showing "accelerated pulmonary function decline”…."

Yes, that’s right. That cough that was just stress, or allergies and was supposed to be short-term has resulted in pulmonary decline that is 12 times higher than the normal aging process.

If Mayor Nagin doesn’t act like a leader and take charge, and if the EPA doesn’t stop sending it’s downplayed messages, they will have blood on their hands.

For more information, visit New Orleans Environment Watch at neworleansenviro.blogspot.com