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EPA advisory for health safety in flooded areas

EPA advisory for health safety in flooded areas

EPA advisory for health safety in flooded areas
Modified EPA release
September 7, 2005

Floodwaters from six locations across the New Orleans area were sampled by EPA and analyzed for chemicals and bacteria. Preliminary information indicates that bacteria counts for E. coli in sampled areas greatly exceed EPA’s recommended levels for contact. At these levels, human contact with water should be avoided as much as possible.

Additional chemical sampling was performed for priority pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs), total metals, pesticides, herbicides, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Results from these analyses were compared to various ATSDR and EPA health levels. Lead concentrations in water exceeded drinking water action levels. These levels are a concern if a child ingests large amounts of flood water. For the additional chemicals tested, we have yet to detect contaminant levels that would pose human health risks. Due to the priority of the search and rescue mission, EPA testing has focused on neighborhoods and not in heavily industrialized areas.
EPA and HHS are providing the following guidelines for those in contact with flood water:

Given these results, emergency response personnel and the public should avoid direct contact with standing water when possible. In the event contact occurs, EPA and CDC strongly advise the use of soap and water to clean exposed areas if available. Flood water should obviously not be swallowed and all mouth contact should be avoided. People should immediately report any symptoms to health professionals. The most likely symptoms are stomach-ache, fever, vomiting and diarrhea. Additional information regarding health and safety issues for both the public and emergency responders can be found on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website

Protecting Human Health

Water issues

Update from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

EPA Response Activity — September 7
At a news conference with CDC on 9/7, Administrator Johnson released initial sampling results of New Orleans flood waters from six locations. Preliminary information indicates that counts for E. Coli in sampled areas greatly exceed EPA’s recommended levels for contact. Also lead concentrations exceeded drinking water action levels, which would be a concern if the flood water was a child’s source of drinking water. Given these preliminary results, emergency response personnel and the public should avoid direct contact with standing water when possible. Collection of flood water samples began 9/3 in downtown New Orleans . Samples were shipped to a Houston lab and a local lab in Lafayette , LA for analysis. Daily sampling is ongoing.

Recovery – EPA search and rescue operations continue. Food and water were distributed and an additional 5 people were rescued. Approximately, 775 rescues have been made by EPA in LA. Sixty EPA water craft are currently available for rescue efforts.

Public Advisories – On 9/6, EPA and HHS issued an advisory cautioning the public and all responders about the possible hazards of flood waters due to potentially elevated levels of contamination associated with raw sewage and other hazardous materials. On 9/4, EPA issued an advisory to the public urging caution when disposing of household hazardous waste and asbestos-containing debris from storm-damaged homes and other buildings.

Water Assessment – EPA estimates the number of water systems affected by the hurricane is now 73 in AL , 555 in MS and 469 in LA. In AL , many water systems were disabled or impaired by loss of electrical power. Five systems in AL currently have boil water advisories. EPA continues its assessment of damage to local drinking water systems in MS, and provides technical assistance to help restore safe drinking water to those systems. EPA sent two mobile laboratories to MS to assist the state Department of Public Health in drinking water analysis. The labs are expected to be operational on September 8, 2005 . Boil water notices have been issued to 404 water systems in MS. Samples from these systems will be analyzed for total fecal coliform bacteria before the systems restore service. EPA is assisting the LA Department of Health and Hospitals in assessing drinking water and will deploy 35 more EPA personnel to LA during this week. There are approximately 378 drinking water systems that are not in operation in LA with another 48 systems on a boil water notice. In LA, one EPA mobile lab is currently testing drinking water samples and providing analytical data. An additional mobile lab is expected to arrive this week in LA.

Wastewater Treatment Facilities – EPA continues to assess wastewater treatment facilities in LA, MS and AL. EPA estimates the number of wastewater treatment facilities affected is now 13 in AL , 114 in LA and 45 in MS.

Air Surveillance – EPA’s environmental surveillance aircraft (ASPECT) is being used to assess spills and chemical releases. On 9/4, a large oil spill was surveyed in Chalmette , LA (Murphy Oil). A 250,000 barrel tank containing 85,000 barrels of oil released beyond secondary containment and extended into a residential area. The company and its contractors are working with EPA and the Coast Guard to repair the storage tank, contain the oil and begin cleanup. EPA and state officials continue to collect air quality information from daily aerial helicopter inspections of facilities. On-the-ground inspections of these facilities will provide additional information in the coming weeks. Air assessments of spills and chemicals releases in New Orleans and surrounding area continue.

Incident Management Team (IMT) – On 9/2 EPA deployed a 17 person Incident Management Team (IMT) to Baton Rouge to integrate with LA officials and manage EPA’s field operations. On 9/6, EPA personnel staffing of a second full IMT began mobilization to LA.

Peer Support & Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Team – EPA has deployed CISM team members to Baton Rouge , LA and will deploy two CISM Team members to Jackson , MS on 9/7 to consult with all EPA staff conducting field operations in areas impacted by the hurricane.

Hazardous Waste Disposal – EPA personnel continue to offer technical assistance in the disposal of hazardous waste and other debris left behind by the storm. Teams are working closely with the Coast Guard to conduct assessments of potential oil spills and chemical releases caused by the hurricane.

Technical Expertise – EPA will be assessing environmentally safe clearance standards for residences and commercial buildings. EPA has practical and scientific expertise in the environmental health hazards caused by flood waters, especially the effects of molds and mildew, and in the disposal of household hazardous waste and asbestos-containing materials from storm-damaged buildings.

Emergency Call Center – EPA expects to deploy 30-50 personnel from the Region 5 (Chicago) office to assist staffing of the FEMA Emergency Call Center that will register people who are applying for federal assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The call center is anticipated to be operational on September 8th.

The above is derived from three EPA press items released today

Other resources:

  • Personal account of hurricane destruction along Mississippi Gulf Coast: The following is an eyewitness account of hurricane destruction along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Included is information on plans to provide pro bono services from out of state lawyers to the storm victims, many of whom will need assistance in dealing with insurance companies, relief bureaucracies, and possibly personal or small business bankruptcies in the aftermath of the storm.
  • White alligator, sea otters, penguins at New Orleans Aquarium OK, fish are not 6-September-2005
    Despite escaping Hurricane Katrina with little physical damage, the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans has suffered significant loss of animal life. According to the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), the aquarium has lost most of its fish. A skeleton staff is preparing to move some animals out of the facility and caring for surviving animals in the collection. The sea otters, penguins, leafy and weedy seadragons, birds (macaws and raptors), and the white alligator are fine.
  • Hurricanes getting stronger due to global warming says study August 29, 2005
    Late last month an atmospheric scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a study in Nature that found hurricanes have grown significantly more powerful and destructive over the past three decades. Kerry Emanuel, the author of the study, warns that since hurricanes depend on warm water to form and build, global climate change might increase the effect of hurricanes still further in coming years.
  • Environmental problems worsened Hurricane Katrina’s impact August 31, 2005
    The loss of coastal marshlands that buffer New Orleans from flooding and storm surges may have worsened the impact of Hurricane Katrina. In the past, the region’s wetlands have served as a natural buffer that slows hurricanes down as they come in from the Gulf of Mexico and helps protect New Orleans from storms. But all this has changed.

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