‘Neck Deep in Toxic Gumbo’

Over at AlterNet, Nicole Makris has an important piece on the environmental and health problems lurking in the wake of Katrina, including the adverse effects the toxic flooding will have on Louisiana’s already-polluted water supply. One EPA official she talks to brings up a good point: After 9/11, when the World Trade Center collapsed in New York, the White House ordered the EPA to be downplay concerns about air quality around the disaster site. Three years later, 88 percent of 9/11 first responders were found to have had respiratory problems from breathing in the asbestos and other particles released into the air. But science and health concerns took a backseat to the need to “reassure” people that everything was just fine.

So here’s the question: The White House quite obviously wants to rebuild and repopulate New Orleans as quickly as possible—President Bush, we are often told, loves “results.” In the rush, will the administration, and the EPA, pressure people to return before the health risks have been fully addressed? Will the workers who are now trying to clean out the city be given adequate equipment and protection? 9/11 doesn’t provide an encouraging precedent, and as Makris notes, that wasn’t half as bad as New Orleans. Meanwhile, it seems the administration is working overtime to demonize environmentalists and blame them for the New Orleans flood, so it doesn’t seem likely that concerns about the “toxic gumbo” swirling around in the city will get much attention.