New Orleans floodwaters still pose a health risk because of dangerous levels of sewage-related bacteria and toxic chemicals, according to government test results released Wednesday.
A minimal number of air pollutants, such as methanol, isobutylene and freon have been found but at levels that officials don't believe pose health risks.
The chemical samples were taken on September 4 and September 6 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. Like the previous tests, they turned up high levels of chemicals such as hexavalent chromium, arsenic and lead.
Thallium also was detected at one sampling location at levels slightly elevated, but not enough to harm the public, reports CNN.
According to MSNBC, “This is one of the biggest environmental challenges in our agency’s history. Since we haven’t seen anything of this scale before, it’s hard to make specific predictions,” said Eryn Witcher, an EPA spokeswoman. The agency’s top priority is a quick cleanup that is done well and protective of people’s health, she said.
The chemical samples were drawn from more than 100 pollutants on Sept. 4 and Sept. 6 by EPA and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. Like previous tests on Sept. 3, they turned up high levels of chemicals such as hexavalent chromium, arsenic and lead.
Thallium also was detected at one sampling location at levels slightly elevated, but not enough to harm the public.
The EPA administrator, Stephen L. Johnson, said early tests did not look for hazardous petrochemical byproducts like benzene because the presence of oil and gasoline was obvious.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, the E.P.A. came under criticism by prominent members of New York's Congressional delegation for declaring the air near ground zero safe based largely on testing for asbestos. Later, the agency's inspector general criticized agency officials as making this declaration without sufficient scientific evidence.
In the past two days, Mayor Nagin and Mr. Johnson offered differing accounts of the federal agency's role in certifying the city's neighborhoods as fit for human occupancy.
Mr. Nagin said Tuesday that he was awaiting an E.P.A. report on air and water quality in four unflooded neighborhoods. On Wednesday, Col. Terry J. Ebbert, the head of homeland security for New Orleans, restated the remark. But public affairs officers at both the environmental agency and the Louisiana State Department of Environmental Quality said they knew of no such report, informs the New York Times.