Food for thought…
Contaminated floodwaters and air pollution have devastated the Gulf Coast ecosystem. As Hurricane Katrina victims try to rebuild their lives after one of the worst natural disasters in American history, the environmental impact remains a looming threat.
In the coming weeks and months, all eyes will be on the clean-up and reconstruction of the Gulf Coast. Many have concerns over the environment and the well known fact that the Bush administration has turned back the clock on many environmental protections. Instead of having people who actually care about the environment in the key agencies that oversee environmental concerns, Bush has filled those positions with corporate energy whores. Many are speaking out, but we need to make certain those voices are heard…
An environmental expert warns residents about the hazards of returning to New Orleans—now home to a dangerous brew of toxic chemicals and bacteria.
Hugh Kaufman, a senior policy analyst for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response with 35 years of experience at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, addressed his concerns with NEWSWEEK’s Bao Ong. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: What do you think about the mayor of New Orleans saying he’ll reopen the city in the coming days?
Hugh Kaufman: The mayor said New Orleans will “breathe again.” Yeah, they’ll breathe bacteria, viruses and volatizing toxic chemicals. There is no environmental assessment. I mean, you can’t even make a determination of the risk factor. But more important, we don’t know what to tell the public in terms of what their risk is when they come back. The public thinks it’s safe. It’s one of the more reckless and irresponsible government decisions made in the last decade. Second only to [former EPA chief] Christie Todd Whitman after [the] World Trade towers came down [saying], “We’ve tested the air and it’s safe. So ya’ll come back.” And now [some] of the people that came back are sick as dogs.
NEWSWEEK: What do you think the government is basing its decisions on?
Hugh Kaufman: There is no environmental characterization that has been accomplished. There’s been a lot of political spin but no valid environmental assessment to determine the amount of hazardous material, bacteria and viruses that are in the air, in the muck and in the dust that the people would be exposed to 24/7 when they go back.
NEWSWEEK: Can you talk more specifically about these toxins and they risks they pose?
Hugh Kaufman: You’ve got oil and petroleum products, which have toxic constituents that have been documented to cause cancer. You have other chemicals coming from landfills and Superfund sites that haven’t been documented. You’ve documented chromium, arsenic and lead, which with some of the other toxic chemicals can cause birth defects, spontaneous abortions, illness—short term and long term—and asthma. Until a thorough assessment is completed of the three pathways—air, direct contact and ingestion of hazardous materials—until that assessment has been done, nobody can quantify how many more cancers, how many more deaths will occur down the line as a result of precipitous interaction with these hazardous and toxic materials that are ever present in that region of the country.
NEWSWEEK: What kind of rebuilding programs will these Gulf Coast cities need to recover?
Hugh Kaufman: They’ll need tens of billions of dollars of federal money to clean up and rebuild and to take care of the folks who have been harmed by this. It’ll be like the Marshall Plan was in Berlin. Or like we said we were going to do for Iraq.
The entire Newsweek interview can be found here.