One of my friends and frequent contributor and support of this blog John Pamer has written me to ask that I post a message stressing the potential health risks that could result from trying to re-inhabit New Orleans before a successful clean-up has been completed. In addition to being a financial consultant John is also a Hazard Mitigation Counselor for FEMA. In his email to me this morning John wrote:
I have a very important task for you. I don't know if I ever told you, but in addition to my other activities, I am a FEMA HM Counselor. What is an "HM Counselor"? That is Hazard Mitigation Counselor - and as such my job was to help people deal with and treat mold and other contaminants that remain after a flood or bad storm.
Now, what do I want you to do?
In New Orleans, they are about to let people back into that city. This CANNOT be allowed to happen before the city is decontaminated.
A man from W. Palm Beach (one of the search and rescue people) came back with his airboat the other day. He was on TV last night (WFLX in W. Palm) telling the reporter that he used 20 GALLONS of bleach just to clean his airboat! Can you imagine what it would/will take to clean a hospital or office building - never mind homes and apartments!
Let me know what you can do - and lest you wonder if I am accessible should any person in authority want to discuss this with me, the answer is (of course) "yes". You have all my contact info and my permission to use it if someone in authority contacts you and asks for it. I am so concerned about this situation, that I will do anything to get the attention of someone who can stop the influx of people into that city.
Ring the bell and shout it from the rooftops! That city MUST be cleaned before letting people go back in! The danger is just too great to the entire country!
John I will certainly share your concerns and do what I can. Please feel free to post any contact information that you would like on the blog.
Also readers, please feel free to forward the following information for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Center of Disease Control.
Transcript Excerpt from Lou Dobbs Tonight
Aired September 16, 2005 - 18:00 ET
New Orleans to Reopen Sections This Weekend; EPA Administration Discusses Safety of Returning to New Orleans
New Orleans Mayor Nagin has given the OK for thousands of evacuees to begin returning to their homes. But with the toxic water flooding much of the city for almost three weeks, is it really safe for anyone to move back to New Orleans?
Well, for that answer, we are joined by the one man who should know, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Stephen Johnson. And he joins us from Phoenix.
Thanks for being with us, sir.
STEPHEN JOHNSON, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ADMINISTRATOR: Thank you, Kitty.
PILGRIM: What sort of hazards do they face, and do you think it's safe?
JOHNSON: Well, let me -- let me take a step back. This is the largest natural disaster that our nation has ever faced. And obviously, our hearts and prayers go out to everybody.
I came down to Arizona today to visit with evacuees. And one of the things that I was struck by is that here we are and I am in Arizona, meeting with evacuees, just really gives a sense of the magnitude of the impact of the storm. And also really the compassion of the country of reaching out and helping them.
PILGRIM: We really need to turn to your expertise, sir, and find out what sort of hazards they face. We hear 44 oil spills for the major, the traces of lead, arsenic, E. Coli.
PILGRIM: Where are we here on this?
JOHNSON: We've been doing extensive investigation. We have been providing, getting preliminary results. Our first results last week were on the flood waters. And what we found in the flood waters were very high levels of E. Coli and coliform bacteria and lead, as well as other chemicals. Hence the flood water is contaminated and it's unsafe.
Today -- today I was briefed on our preliminary results on the sediment. It, too, is highly contaminated. It's contaminated with petroleum products and a variety of other chemicals. And so we issued, along with the Centers for Disease Control, a public health advisory to make sure that people avoid contact with this sediment, as well.
PILGRIM: Nevertheless, this sediment can dry out, turn to dust and blow around. Is that safe?
JOHNSON: Well, that's one of the areas we're also concerned about. And we are -- we've been doing a lot of air monitoring, will continue to do air monitoring as we are with flood water sampling and sediment sampling. At this point in time, based upon our preliminary results, we haven't seen any air contamination, but it's an area that we're continuing to monitor because we have concerns, just as you mentioned.
PILGRIM: Obviously, you're working against two forces. One is people really do want to get back to their homes. But the other is you really must watch out for their safety. Are you convinced that it's OK to go back in? I guess I go back to my primary question.
JOHNSON: Well, the decision of whether to reoccupy a city, in this case New Orleans, is really a multiple issue decision. And the decision is generally done by the mayor or by the local and state officials.
The kinds of issues that the mayor and we all face, particularly the mayor faces, is -- includes issues such as power. Is there electricity? Are the drinking water systems working? They're working, but the water, you can't drink. Are the waste water systems working? The two waste water systems there are not operating.
So there's just a multiple number of factors that go into that decision. We at EPA are on the scene to provide advice and information so that the mayor and the state officials can make an informed decision.
PILGRIM: and were you involved in that decision to allow people back in?
JOHNSON: We've been providing information as soon as we get it. Just as soon as we found the flood water information, we issued an advisory, a precautionary advisory today again for the contaminant information, again showing a precautionary advisory.
There are just a number of issues that we're trying to assess. And we're on the scene. We're assessing those, not only in New Orleans and Louisiana. But also in Mississippi as well as Alabama.
PILGRIM: All right, thanks very much for joining us tonight.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
PILGRIM: Stephen Johnson. Thank you, sir.
Tips FROM the CDC
Clean Up Safely After a Natural Disaster
When returning to your home after a hurricane, flood, or other natural disaster protect yourself and your family by following these tips.
Stay away from damaged buildings or structures until they have been examined and certified as safe by a building inspector or other government authority. You may want to wait to return to buildings during daylight hours, when it is easier to avoid hazards, particularly if the electricity is off and you have no lights.
Leave immediately if you hear shifting or unusual noises that signal that the structure may fall or if you smell gas or suspect a leak. If you smell gas, notify emergency authorities and do not turn on the lights, light matches, smoke, or do anything that could cause a spark. Do not return to the house until you are told it is safe to do so.
Keep children and pets out of the affected area until cleanup has been completed.
General Safety Measures
Have at least two fire extinguishers, each with a UL rating of at least 10A, at every cleanup job.
Wear hard hats, goggles, heavy work gloves, and watertight boots with steel toe and insole (not just steel shank) for cleanup work.
Wear earplugs or protective headphones to reduce risk from equipment noise.
Use teams of two or more people to move bulky objects. Avoid lifting any material that weighs more than 50 pounds (per person).
When using a chain saw, operate the saw according to the manufacturer's instructions, wear appropriate protective equipment, avoid contact with power lines, be sure that bystanders are at a safe distance, and take extra care in cutting trees or branches that have gotten bent or caught under another object. Use extreme caution to avoid electrical shock when using an electric chain saw. For tips on safely operating a chain saw, see Be Aware of the Risk of Chain Saw Injury During Tree Removal.
If there has been a backflow of sewage into your house, wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles during cleanup of the affected area.
In hot weather, try to stay cool by staying in air-conditioned buildings, taking breaks in shaded areas or in cool rooms, drinking water and nonalcoholic fluids often, and wearing light and loose-fitting clothing. Do outdoor activities during cooler hours. For more information on protecting yourself against heat-related illness, see the CDC Extreme Heat website.
Carbon Monoxide Exposure
Never use generators, pressure washers, or other gasoline, propane, natural gas, or charcoal-burning devices inside your home, basement, garage, or camper—or even outside near an open window, door, or vent. Carbon monoxide—an odorless, colorless gas from these sources that can cause sudden illness and death—can build up indoors and poison the people and animals inside.
For more information, see Protect Yourself from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After an Emergency.
Mold and Cleanup
Remove and discard items that cannot be washed and disinfected (such as mattresses, carpeting, carpet padding, rugs, upholstered furniture, cosmetics, stuffed animals, baby toys, pillows, foam-rubber items, books, wall coverings, and paper products).
Remove and discard drywall and insulation that has been contaminated with sewage or flood waters.
Thoroughly clean all hard surfaces (such as flooring, concrete, molding, wood and metal furniture, countertops, appliances, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures) with hot water and laundry or dish detergent.
See Protect Yourself from Mold and the CDC Flood website for further guidance on safely reentering flooded homes, cleaning up flood or storm water, worker safety issues, and mold cleanup issues.
If electrical circuits and electrical equipment have gotten wet or are in or near water, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel. If you must enter standing water to access the main power switch, then call an electrician to turn it off.
Never turn power on or off or use an electric tool or appliance while standing in water.
Do not connect generators to your home's electrical circuits without the approved, automatic-interrupt devices. If a generator is on line when electrical service is restored, it can become a major fire hazard and it may endanger line workers helping to restore power in your area.
For more information, see How to Protect Yourself and Others from Electrical Hazards Following a Natural Disaster.
Hazardous Materials Issues
Call the fire department to inspect or remove chemicals, propane tanks, and other dangerous materials.
Wear protective clothing and gear (for example, a respirator if needed) when handling hazardous materials.
Wash skin that may have come in contact with hazardous materials.
Wear insulated gloves and use caution if you have to remove a car battery. Avoid any acid that may have leaked from a car battery.
For information about possible dangers posed by chemicals, see the Chemical Emergencies page. For information about possible dangers posed by pollution from large farms and agricultural facilities, see the CDC Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) website.
Hygiene and Infectious Disease Issues
After completing the cleanup, wash with soap and water. If there is a boil-water advisory in effect, use water that has been boiled for 1 minute (allow the water to cool before washing). Or you may use water that has been disinfected for personal hygiene use (solution of 1/8 teaspoon of household bleach per 1 gallon of water). Let it stand for 30 minutes. If the water is cloudy, use a solution of 1/4 teaspoon of household bleach per 1 gallon of water.
If you have any open cuts or sores that were exposed to floodwater, wash them with soap and water and apply an antibiotic ointment to discourage infection.
Seek immediate medical attention if you become injured or ill.
Wash all clothes worn during the cleanup in hot water and detergent. These clothes should be washed separately from uncontaminated clothes and linens.
For more tips on washing your hands, see Handwashing in Emergency Situations.
If the building is flooded, the waters may contain fecal material from overflowing sewage systems and agricultural and industrial waste. Although skin contact with floodwater does not, by itself, pose a serious health risk, there is risk of disease from eating or drinking anything contaminated with floodwater.
If you have any open cuts or sores that will be exposed to floodwater, keep them as clean as possible by washing them with soap and applying an antibiotic ointment to discourage infection. (See also Handwashing in Emergency Situations.)
To reduce cold–related risks when standing or working in water which is cooler than 75 degrees F (24 degrees C), wear insulated clothes and insulated rubber boots, take frequent breaks out of the water, and change into dry clothing when possible.
See also Keep Food and Water Safe after a Natural Disaster or Power Outage and Reentering Your Flooded Home.
Monitor your radio or television for up-to-date emergency information.