PDF _ RL33115 - Cleanup after Hurricane Katrina: Environmental Considerations
3-May-2006; Robert Esworthy, Linda Jo Schierow, Claudia Copeland, Linda Luther, and Jonathan L. Ramseur; 35 p.

Update: June 19, 2006

Previous Releases:

Abstract: Local, state, and federal responders face numerous cleanup challenges associated with Hurricane Katrina. In Mississippi, Alabama, and parts of Louisiana, much of the focus has been on restoring infrastructure and managing debris and waste. In New Orleans, where most damage was due to floodwaters, the immediate tasks were “unwatering” and evaluation of potential risks from contaminated water, sediment, and air. As floodwaters receded, debris management and infrastructure repair began. Monitoring and analysis of air, water, and residual sediment and soil continues to inform decisions about whether neighborhoods are safe for returning residents. Local authorities, with assistance from federal agencies, have worked to determine how and where disaster-related wastes would be gathered, separated, and disposed. This report provides an overview of the immediate and intermediate cleanup tasks and the federal role supporting these tasks.

State, county, and local municipalities have jurisdiction with regard to cleanup after any natural catastrophe. However, because the President issued a major disaster declaration, at the governors’ requests, under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act in response to Hurricane Katrina, federal agencies have been broadly authorized to provide assistance. Federal cleanup assistance efforts are being coordinated by the Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps), the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Corps has coordinated unwatering of New Orleans, assessment and repair of water and wastewater systems, and nonhazardous debris removal, in conjunction with other emergency response activities, such as filling levee breaches. EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard have primary responsibility for assessing and managing releases of oil and other hazardous substances. EPA is also overseeing the collection and disposal of electronic wastes (e.g., computers and televisions) and household hazardous wastes (e.g., household cleaners, pesticides). Many other federal agencies have also been contributing various expertise and assistance to the cleanup effort.

The greatest portion of Katrina-related disaster debris was generated in coastal Mississippi and Louisiana. Removal of that debris and waste continues to be a major concern. The sheer volume of the debris and scope of the destruction, together with the inability of a significant percentage of the affected residents to return to their homes to address potential demolition and debris removal decisions, ensures that the debris removal process will continue for many months to come.

Throughout the Katrina-affected region, drinking water and sewage treatment plants were damaged. Most are operating again now; however, many require substantial repair or reconstruction, which will likely take many months. In New Orleans, some Katrina-generated waste was contaminated, making the potential for toxic chemical exposure of returning residents a significant concern. Sampling results of residue sediments and air have indicated some sediment contamination with bacteria and chemicals. Possible health risks from contact with deposited sediment, or with contaminants in dust as the sediments dry, remain a concern. Mold is another issue of concern. This report will not be updated.

 [read report]

Topics: Waste Management, Water

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