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Lead levels in disturbed soil post-Katrina unsafe

Unsafe levels of lead in soil and sediments left behind in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina could pose a heightened health threat to returning residents, especially children, says a study.//

In some soil samples collected from the area, lead levels were as much as two-thirds higher than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers safe, according to researchers at Texas Tech University.

Lead exposure is a particular health concern among children because it can impair the nervous system and cause developmental problems.

The study has been published in the American Chemical Society's journal Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T).

Others have previously reported high concentrations of lead in the city's soil, but lead generally remains embedded in the soil and does not easily come in contact with people unless disturbed, says study leader Steven M. Presley, Ph.D., an environmental toxicologist at Texas Tech in Lubbock.

Presley believes severe flooding may have loosened large amounts of embedded lead and led to its deposition on soil surfaces, making exposure to lead particles more likely, either through skin contact or the inhalation of aerosolized particles.

In addition to lead, scientists also found concentrations of aldrin (an insecticide), arsenic, and seven semi-volatile organic compounds that exceeded EPA Region VI safe levels and are on EPA's list of known or suspected human carcinogens. In all, the researchers analyzed the sediment and soil samples for 26 metals and more than 90 semi-volatile compounds.

In addition to sediment and soil samples, the researchers also tested water and animal tissues following the flood. Other contaminants found among samples include high levels of iron, several banned pesticides and pathogenic bacteria, but the researchers say that concentrations of most of these contaminants were unlikely to pose an immediate human health threat.
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