Would you go back into this?
Sampling shows contamination
Chemist opposes return
By MIKE DUNNE
Advocate staff writer
Environmental sampling conducted by the Louisiana Environmental Action Network and others shows contamination in several New Orleans areas exceed federal standards for residential communities.
Wilma Subra, a New Iberia chemist overseeing the sampling project, said the results show that officials should not be allowing residents back home.
If residents feel compelled to return, they should wear respirators, protective suits and gloves and boots, she said.
"Babies shouldn't go in, pregnant women shouldn't go in, elderly shouldn't go in," said Subra, who has worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, serving as technical adviser for community groups living near Superfund sites and sitting on several EPA science advisory committees.
"If this was a waste site with chemicals exceeding the (residential) criteria, they would not allow unrestricted access," Subra said. "There is a desperate need for EPA to come up with clean criteria" for flooded neighborhoods before allowing residents to return.
The samples were collected in mid-September in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes by Altamont Environmental of Asheville, N.C., and analyzed by Pace Analytical of New Orleans, which is an EPA-certified laboratory.
Among the findings were several samples with levels of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, exceeding the EPA residential standard.
Many of those PAHs are known or suspected cancer-causing agents.
In the Lower 9th Ward, sediment tests revealed 12 PAHs.
One, benzo (a) pyrene, was detected at 195 parts per billion, three times greater than the EPA Region 6 residential standard of 62 parts per billion.
Arsenic, a known cancer-causing agent, was found at a concentration 75 times higher than the EPA residential standard, she said.
Subra said the results mean residents could face both 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."
Subra has already been critical of the level of testing by EPA and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.
Late Thursday, EPA issued a press release that says sediment and water samples taken Sept. 26 did show some elevated contaminants, including some PAHs.
In each case, EPA says, levels were "below what Agency for Toxic Substance of the Centers for Disease Control considers to be immediately hazardous to human health."
The LEAN tests of sediment in the Lower 9th Ward show elevated levels of heavy metals, such as lead, and volatile organic chemicals associated with petroleum products.
On Agriculture Street, designated as a Superfund site, 10 PAHs were found, with benzo (a) pyrene detected at 2.7 times higher than the EPA residential standard.
The arsenic concentration was 13.3 times higher than the EPA residential standard, Subra said.
Sediment in the Morrison Road area contained arsenic levels 28 times greater than the EPA residential standard.
In the Meraux residential area, sediment was contaminated with elevated levels of benzene, chlorobenzene, toluene and carbon disulfide and the heavy metals barium, chromium and lead, Subra said.
In a Chalmette residential area, sediment was contaminated with elevated levels of chlorobenzene, toluene, carbon disulfide, barium, cadmium, chromium and lead.
Last week, Eric Olsen of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental group, told a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee that 25 percent of EPA's own air tests show benzene levels exceeding the National Institutes of Environmental Health and Safety two-week exposure standard of 4 parts per billion.
EPA's analysis compared those levels to the acute exposure limit of 50 parts per billion -- a level safe only for 24-hour exposure times.
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