There is serious news breaking today that independent testing of New Orleans shows highly elevated levels of deadly contaminants, contrary to what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Mayor Ray Nagin have been telling people. Wilma Subra, the chemist who performed the testing, told The Advocate, exposure to toxic sediment could cause short-term and long-term health risks, which could include "respiratory problems, asthma, skin rashes and damage to internal organs -- and, potentially, cancer over the long-term."
For example, in the infamous 9th Ward, arsenic, a known cancer-causing agent, was found at a concentration 75 times higher than the EPA residential standard.
Meanwhile, Ray Nagin is telling people to come back and drink the water too.
In this Salon piece, Hugh B. Kaufman, an expert on these matters put it best. "The appearance of 'back-to-normal' gets local industry going, then real estate, and so on," he said. In addition, the most powerful local industry – oil and gas – is less likely to have to pay for costly cleanup if areas are deemed safe. All monied entities and people in New Orleans have a vested interest in getting people back, and unfortunately, they are the ones who fund the campaigns of local and many Federal officials. Disturbingly, this was bluntly confirmed in a comment by the St. Bernard Parish President.
“[The city is] one step away from being financially destroyed; businesses are flat on their ass… You can't operate a government without taxes," he said.
So, it seems the decision has been made – money is more important than lives. As a Democrat, I would love to pin this all on President Bush. But sadly, in this saga, Mayor Nagin may be the most onerous one, because it is he, not the Feds, who has encouraged people to come back without any serious concern for the health risks.
Finally, as to the title of my blog. Every environmental group agrees that until any area can undeniably declared safe from a health threat, people will not be protected in New Orleans unless they are wearing proper gear (goggles, boots, gloves, respirators, etc). Unless the city, state, and Feds can come up with a way to get all of this gear to every person returning and warn them of all the risks of not wearing the gear, the government has a duty to protect the public health by the only other way it can – get everyone out of the city until areas can be properly tested, cleaned, and tested again.
For more information, visit New Orleans Environment Watch at neworleansenviro.blogspot.com