Katrina Environmental Issues 'Almost Unimaginable'

Tuesday, 06 September 2005 23:16 by: Anonymous

Also see below:     
Few Choices to Rid New Orleans of Poisoned Water    [
Second Oil Spill Feared on Mississippi River    [

    Katrina Environmental Issues 'Almost Unimaginable'
    By Jim Loney

    Wednesday 07 September 2005

    Baton Rouge, LA - Hurricane Katrina left behind a landscape of oil spills, leaking gas lines, damaged sewage plants and tainted water, Louisiana's top environment official said Tuesday.

    In the state's first major assessment of the environmental havoc in southern Louisiana, Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Mike McDaniel said large quantities of hazardous materials in damaged industrial plants, the danger of explosions and fires and water pollution were his main concerns eight days after the storm struck.

    Preliminary figures indicate 140,000 to 160,000 homes were flooded and will not be recovered, he said. "Literally, they are unsalvageable," he said.

    He said it would take "years" to restore water service to the entire city.

    "It's almost unimaginable, the things we are going to have to deal with," he said.

    Crews have found two major oil spills, one of 68,000 barrels at a Bass Enterprise storage depot in Venice and another of 10,000 barrels at a Murphy Oil facility in Chalmette, McDaniel said.

    But huge amounts of oil also oozed from cars, trucks and boats caught in the flood.

    "Everywhere we look there's a spill. It all adds up," he said. "There's almost a solid sheen over the area right now."

    High-level radiation sources, including nuclear plants, have been secured, and authorities were trying to determine the status of rail cars in the area as well as searching out large caches of hazardous materials in industrial plants.

    Although there is a disease risk from contaminated water in the streets of New Orleans, McDaniel said it was too early to call the stagnant liquid a "toxic soup." State and federal agencies had begun quality testing.

    "I'm saying that's a little bit exaggerated," he said. "To say it's toxic, it sounds like instant death walking in it. Let's get some better data."

    Independent experts have said the New Orleans flood water, may cause environmental damage as it flows from the city to Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River.

    More than 500 Louisiana sewage plants were damaged or destroyed, including 25 major ones. There were about 170 sources of leaking hydrocarbons and natural gas, officials said.

    Katrina damaged large areas of wildlife habitat but it was too soon to assess the long-term impact, McDaniel said.

    "One thing about nature, it's resilient," he said. "Nature will recover."


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    Few Choices to Rid New Orleans of Poisoned Water
    By Jim Loney

    Wednesday 07 September 2005

    Baton Rouge, LA - The potentially toxic brew of chemicals and human waste in the New Orleans floodwaters will have to be pumped into the Mississippi River or Lake Pontchartrain, raising the specter of an environmental disaster on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, experts say.

    The dire need to rid the drowned city of water could trigger fish kills and poison the delicate wetlands near New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi.

    State and federal agencies have just begun water quality testing but environmental experts say the vile, stagnant chemical soup that sits in the streets of the city known as The Big Easy will contain traces of everything imaginable.

    "Go home and identify all the chemicals in your house. It's a very long list," said Ivor van Heerden, head of a Louisiana State University center that studies the public health impacts of hurricanes.

    "And that's just in a home. Imagine what's in an industrial plant," he said. "Or a sewage plant."

    Gasoline, diesel, anti-freeze, bleach, human waste, acids, alcohols and a host of other substances must be washed out of homes, factories, refineries, hospitals and other buildings.

    In Metairie, east of New Orleans, the floodwater is tea-colored, murky and smells of burnt sulfur. A thin film of oil is visible in the water.

    Those who have waded into it say they could see only about 1 to 2 inches into the depths and that there was significant debris on and below the surface.

    Experts said the longer water sat in the streets, the greater the chance gasoline and chemical tanks - as well as common containers holding anything from bleach to shampoo - would rupture.

    Officials have said it may take up to 80 days to clear the water from New Orleans and surrounding parishes.

    Mike McDaniel, the secretary of Louisiana's Department of Environmental Quality, said it was too early to call the water "toxic."

    "I'm saying that's a little bit exaggerated," he told reporters during a briefing in Baton Rouge. "To say it's toxic, it sounds like instant death walking in it. Let's get some better data."

    Analysts have already found bacteria in the water and traces of pesticides and more dangerous pollutants, he said.

    How much water New Orleans holds is open to question.

    Van Heerden estimates it is billions of gallons. LSU researchers will use satellite imagery and computer modeling to get a better fix on the quantity.

    Bio-remediation - cleaning up the water - would require the time and expense of constructing huge storage facilities, considered an impossibility, especially with the public clamor to get the water out quickly, he said.

    Second Disaster?

    McDaniel said there was no choice but to pump it into Lake Pontchartrain or the Mississippi. The river flows into the Gulf of Mexico, a key maritime spawning ground.

    "We have to get the water out of the city or the nightmare gets worse," he said. "Right now the priority is on saving lives."

    The result could be a second wave of disaster for southern Louisiana, said Harold Zeliger, a Florida-based chemical toxicologist and water quality consultant.

    "In effect, it's going to kill everything in those waters," he said.

    The water will leave behind more trouble - a city filled with mold, some of it toxic, the experts said. After other floods, researchers found many buildings had to be stripped back to concrete, or razed.

    "If you have a building half full of water, everything above the water is growing mold. When it dries out, the rest grows mold," Zeliger said. "Most of the buildings will have to be destroyed."


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    Second Oil Spill Feared on Mississippi River
    By Miguel Llanos

    Wednesday 07 September 2005

One near New Orleans follows large slick near mouth.

    Clean-up crews on Wednesday were trying to reach two sites on the Mississippi River where officials have spotted slicks and fear large oil spills.

    One suspected spill in Chalmette, a town just a few miles southeast of New Orleans, was only recently detected and an oil storage tank there could have spilled some 10,000 barrels.

    "Oil got into the neighborhoods," Jean Kelly, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality told MSNBC.com on Wednesday.

    Just how much is unknown because "nobody's been in there" yet, Kelly said. Getting crews to the site has been difficult given the hurricane damage and the fact that some of the workers' lives have themselves been turned upside down.

    "It's an unbelievable nightmare down here," Kelly said. "They're doing the best they can to get in."

    Barge Heading to Second Site

    Officials last Thursday detected a slick farther south on the Mississippi River, and just north of the devastated town of Venice.

    Two oil storage tanks are thought to be leaking there. How much is also unknown, but Kelly said a working estimate right now is 78,000 barrels might have spilled. A barrel of oil is 42 gallons.

    "There's no way to get in by road," she said, adding that a barge with a clean-up crew was making its way to the site.

    If the two spills are confirmed and in the thousands of barrels they would be considered significant. In contrast, the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989 involved about 250,000 barrels of oil.

    In a statement late Friday, the department said that "the slick is visible and is leaking into the river from an area near two storage tanks. Because the area is not accessible at the moment, there is no way to verify that the tanks are the cause of the leak. Also, there is no confirmation on how much of the product, which appears to petroleum based, has leaked."

    Venice, a town in the Mississippi River Delta, is 65 miles southeast of New Orleans. Most of it was flattened by Hurricane Katrina.

    'Only Seen It from a Plane'

    Rodney Mallett, a responder at the state's oil spill task force, told MSNBC.com that little is known about the Venice slick so far.

    "We have only seen it from a plane," he said Friday afternoon. "It looks like it is coming from those tanks, but we need more evidence before being 100 percent sure. It could be coming from nearby and just running out from under all those trees."

    The spill was first spotted Thursday during a flyover, Kelly said.

    Each tank is estimated to be 20 feet tall and 280 feet in diameter, Kelly said. The department initially estimated that total capacity could be 1 million barrels each but later reduced that to 80,000 each.

    Kelly said the state agency had notified the state oil spill response task force, the US Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency so that they can begin clean-up.

Last modified on Monday, 21 April 2008 15:07