A team of UMR researchers found concentrations of leachable arsenic and lead above drinking water standards in sediment and soil samples collected from New Orleans’ parishes following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The team shares its findings in a recent article published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
The researchers also searched for evidence of pesticides, but those concentrations were generally in the nondetectable range.
“Levee breaches, precipitated by Hurricane Katrina and the associated storm surge, left sediments that now cover large sections of New Orleans and the peninsula,” explains Craig Adams, the John and Susan Mathes Chair of Environmental Engineering at UMR and director of the UMR Environmental Research Center for Emerging Contaminants.
The preliminary study analyzed 46 of the 238 samples the team gathered Oct. 6-18, 2005, in New Orleans and along Highway 23 on the Louisiana peninsula.
“The highest leachable concentrations of lead and arsenic in sediment were observed in the Broadmoor District in Orleans Parish,” Adams says. “These levels could potentially pose a health issue if significant exposure occurred.”
Adams says normal human contact with sediments – and the contaminants therein – can come through many exposure routes, ranging from children playing in their yards, participation in sports like football and baseball, and gardening activities.
“The massive cleanup efforts in New Orleans also continue to expose workers and citizens to sediments deposited in houses, yards and streets,” Adams says. “Inhalation of airborne particulates and dust can be a significant exposure route to toxins in sediment particles.”