News Release

Environmental Aspects of New Orleans Disaster


Available for a limited number of interviews, Kaufman is senior policy analyst at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. He has worked at the agency for 35 years and was the chief EPA investigator for the post-9/11 emergency response. Speaking in his personal capacity he said today: “After 9/11, because the government did not do its job properly and provide the responders with the proper clothing and equipment — like respirators — now over 75 percent of the responders are sick as dogs … And they’re starting to die off, four years after their heroic efforts in responding to 9/11. And I’m concerned the same thing is happening down in that region of the country, where the responders are not provided respirators and the proper equipment to protect them from their exposures.

“The danger is actually worse when the water goes away, because you have hazardous materials more concentrated in muck and dust. People will more readily come back, and will try to clean their homes or porches. And they’ll have toxic dust they’ll be sweeping around. And they’ll inhale it and ingest it. … If there’s no clean-up you have basically people living and trying to clean in the middle of the country’s largest Superfund site.”
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Leslie is author of the new book Deep Water: The Epic Struggle Over Dams, Displaced People, and the Environment. He can address the environmental and social impacts of massive water-related building projects. He said today: “Bush’s remarks about rebuilding New Orleans raise a number of questions. Katrina’s devastation is greatly attributable to the human-engineered diversion of the Mississippi River over the last 150 years. While the changes facilitated navigation and eliminated all but the largest floods, they made the Mississippi Delta vulnerable to the kind of tragedy it is now experiencing. Sediment borne by the river that once fortified the Delta was instead propelled all the way into the Gulf of Mexico, causing the horrific coastal erosion and wetlands destruction that has plagued the Delta ever since. “Now, is Bush proposing to spend money to re-enforce the levees? How could you re-establish that shore line without doing something about the channelizing of the Mississippi River?

“In massive dam projects around the world, poor people are typically cast aside and their interests are rarely considered. These are people who live where reservoirs are planned and are displaced in favor of the reservoir. They are almost invariably poor, frequently indigenous and are almost never given a stake in the benefits arising from the dam. In New Orleans, there’s a large number of poor people about whom similar issues arise. Will they participate in the recovery? Will they have a chance at a standard of living at least as good as what they had before? Or will they be cast aside in the interests of creating new markets for the wealthy? Will New Orleans be redeveloped around the French Quarter as a sort of Disneyland?”
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Malek-Wiley is chapter director of the Sierra Club in Louisiana. The group has recently released the document “Seven Principles for Rebuilding the Gulf Coast,” available at its website. Mattei is head of the Sierra Club’s New York City office. Because of her extensive work in the wake of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, she serves as the Sierra Club’s expert on emergency preparedness. She is able to address the environmental impacts of the World Trade Center attacks and aftermath, the situation in New Orleans and environmental aspects of government emergency planning generally.
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167