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Lead levels in disturbed soil post-Katrina unsafe

br> The peer-reviewed study, which represents one of the most detailed environmental sampling efforts to date following the flooding caused by Katrina, will appear in the Jan. 15 issue of ES&T.

For the current study, the research team obtained sediment, soil, water and animal tissue samples over a three-day period (Sept. 16-18) from across a broad cross-section of the city 18 days after the hurricane struck and after most of the water had been pumped from the city. The sampling included 14 different sites in the New Orleans area and focused mainly on the sediment and soil.

"The purpose of this study is to gather more extensive samples and establish baseline data for evaluation of the long-term environmental impact of the storm," says Presley. "It may take years before we really know the full extent of the human health risks and wildlife impact from the Katrina contaminants, but this is an important step."

The researcher cautions that this study alone won't answer the much-debated question of whether it is safe to return to the area. Nonetheless, people should be made aware of the contaminants present and take appropriate cleanup measures to minimize the potential health risks.

Floodwater samples taken at some sites showed extremely high levels of bacteria, particularly Aeromonas hydrophila, a little known human pathogen that can cause diarrhea and wound infections. This is the first time that Aeromonas has been detected in the Katrina floodwaters, Presley says.

Animal tissues sampled, including dead snakes and an alligator, also contained multiple metals and pesticides, but these levels were within an expected range, the researchers say. Of the 47 mosquito specimens collected in the study area, all tested negative for West Nile Virus and St. Louis Encephalitis. However, virus-transmitting mosquito populations might increase in the spring and summer.

The researchers are planning to expand their samplin
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