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The environmental nightmare ahead after Katrina


A water pumping station is shown in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in this aerial view in St. Bernard Parish near New Orleans, September 7, 2005. As many as five people have died from bacterial infections caused by the dirty water that Hurricane Katrina drove ashore last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday. REUTERS/David J. Phillip/Pool

The Independent has a frightening piece online, one that outlines the environmental disaster that will be created if the government intends to “recover” New Orleans. It’s not pretty, and it does raise again the question — should the city be restored in that space?

Repug Denny Hastert, no political friend of mine, got his head bitten off for even mentioning the possibility that New Orleans shouldn’t be rebuilt as it stood before. He may have been insensitive to those that loved and called New Orleans their home by calling for its bulldozing.

After reading this, is it worth it to rebuild a city below sea level, considering the eco-fallout — and the fact that Mother Nature has the capacity to take it out again? Read and put in your two cents.

Toxicologists and public health experts warned yesterday that pumping billions of gallons of contaminated water from the streets of New Orleans back into the Gulf of Mexico – the only viable option if the city is ever to return to even a semblance of its former self -would have a crippling effect on marine and animal life, compromise the wetlands that form the first line of resistance to future hurricanes, and carry deleterious consequences for human health throughout the region.

…The devastation of Hurricane Katrina has created a vast toxic soup that stretches across south-eastern Louisiana and Mississippi, and portends the arrival of an environmental disaster to rival the awe-inspiring destruction of property and human life over the past week.

Toxicologists and public health experts warned yesterday that pumping billions of gallons of contaminated water from the streets of New Orleans back into the Gulf of Mexico – the only viable option if the city is ever to return to even a semblance of its former self -would have a crippling effect on marine and animal life, compromise the wetlands that form the first line of resistance to future hurricanes, and carry deleterious consequences for human health throughout the region.

The full extent of the danger is unknown and unknowable, but the polluted waters are known to contain human and animal waste, the bodies of people and animals, household effluence, and chemical and petrochemical toxins from the refineries that dot the Gulf coast in and around New Orleans.

Here is information in the article from Harold Zeliger, a chemical toxicologist and independent consultant based in New York State.

* The waters now swilling around the streets of New Orleans will probably end up either in the Mississippi River or in Lake Pontchartrain, where they are likely to react with the oxygen in the water and deprive all living creatures, starting with the fish, of the means to life.

* Polluted waters are known to contain human and animal waste, the bodies of people and animals, household effluence, and chemical and petrochemical toxins from the refineries that dot the Gulf coast in and around New Orleans.


From BBC.

* Even before the pumping is complete, the consequences for all living creatures – humans, animals, fish and micro-organisms – are likely to be dire.

* Zero-dissolved oxygen will lead to the death of fish and other organisms.

* Migratory birds who pass through the area that eat fish from the soup will be contaminated and then will start dying in large quantities.

* Reptiles and snakes are going to be driven out of their nests and habitats, which has implications for human safety — water moccasins [a highly venomous snake], and alligators will roam.

* The only way to make the water remotely potable would be to chlorinate it, but given the degree of contamination, this would create its own devastating side effects.

* Chlorinating poor-quality water categories of trihalmethanes and other compounds that produce their own nightmarish effects on human health, such as spontaneous abortions.

* Potable water may not be available from taps for up to one year.

***

And then you have this: French Quarter keen to open for business. Is this denial, hope or insanity?

The BBC News website’s Richard Greene discovers how the heart of tourist New Orleans, largely untouched by Hurricane Katrina, is looking to the future, despite the mayor’s order to evacuate the city.

Finis Shelnutt is enjoying a beautiful September day. The sun is blazing hot, the sky perfectly clear, and he has a table with a tidy white tablecloth all to himself in front of Alex Patout’s Louisiana Restaurant.


Finis Shelnutt is ready to open his restaurant again post-Katrina. From BBC.

His moustache is perfectly trimmed. Not a hair is out of place. His collarless striped shirt hangs comfortably open at the neck. And he gazes serenely out at the world through tinted glasses.

“Beautiful day,” he nods in greeting as two people walk past. What’s wrong with this picture? The restaurant where Mr Shelnutt is sitting is in the centre of the French Quarter of storm-and-flood-ravaged New Orleans.

He proudly points out local gastronomic landmarks; Antoine’s, where Oysters Rockefeller was invented; Brennan’s, which developed Eggs Benedict; Paul Prudhomme’s, which popularised the cooking of blackened fish.

Sitting on high ground, the Big Easy’s main tourist destination was almost entirely untouched by the storm. And now, with the city evacuated and shut down, it is entirely untouched by tourists. The streets are empty.

Mr Shelnutt doesn’t expect that to last long. “We’re ready to open up,” he says confidently, as two restaurant employees haul containers of rotting meat out of the building.

Mr Shelnutt puts a positive spin even on that, smiling through the stench lingering in the air.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding