Wednesday, September 07, 2005

They aren't careless; they just don't care

One of the big public health issues in the Katrina debacle is the perilous environment of a toxics-laden city underwater. It is not just, or even primarily, the city's known toxic waste sites but the vast variety of everyday household and industrial chemicals stored in garages, basements, warehouses and shops, not to mention underground storage tanks, gas stations, etc., etc. When the city is pumped out (and where are they going to pump the pollutant laden water? Into the Lake!), there will be left a layer of sediment with unknown content. This will need to be sampled, analyzed and mapped so that the environment for workers and potential residents is well-characterized.

This process is not underway, as far as we are able to ascertain. Nor is it clear what plans are being made to do this. And the following item suggests such plans are of low (or no) priority:
The White House has convened a Cabinet-level task force in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that does not include EPA, prompting a number government watchdog groups to raise concerns that the exclusion may reflect an effort to downplay the extent of environmental contamination in the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast region.

President Bush announced Aug. 31 that the Red Cross and 10 federal agencies, including the Small Business Administration and the Department of Labor, but not EPA, are part of the “federal response” to the damage caused by the hurricane.


One source with the government watchdog group OMB Watch says the administration was “short sighted by not including [EPA] right away,” saying it is likely that toxic material, human waste and other contaminants released as as a result of the hurricane are polluting the area and threatening public health. The source speculates that the White House excluded EPA from the task force because of a fear that agency staff may find politically damaging information, similar to what happened in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, when EPA was critical of the administration’s response to the environmental contamination caused by the terrorist attacks. (From the trade newsletter Inside EPA via Cosmic Variance).
The only conclusion you can draw from this is that they simply don't care. Never did. Never will.