- Overlooked in many news reports about the unfolding storm
disaster in the southern United States, especially in the City of New Orleans,
in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, is a potentially dramatic pollution
issue related to a toxic landfill that sits under the flood waters right
in the city's downtown, according to map overlays of the flooded area.
The situation could exacerbate the already dire threat to human health
and the environment from the flood waters.
- The Agriculture Street Landfill (ASL) is situated on
a 95-acre site in New Orleans, Orleans Parish, Louisiana. The ASL is a
federally registered Superfund site, and is on the National Priorities
List of highly contaminated sites requiring cleanup and containment. A
few years ago the site, which sits underneath and beside houses and a school,
was fenced and covered with clean soil. However, three feet or more of
flood waters could potentially cause the landfill's toxic contents - the
result of decades of municipal and industrial waste dumping - to leach
- Houses and buildings that were constructed in later years
directly atop parts of the landfill. Residents report unusual cancers and
health problems and have lobbied for years to be relocated away from the
old contaminated site, which contains not only municipal garbage, but buried
industrial wastes such as what would be produced by service stations and
dry cleaners, manufacturers or burning. The site was routinely sprayed
with DDT in the 1940s and 50s and, in 1962, 300,000 cubic yards of excess
fill were removed from ASL because of ongoing subsurface fires. (The site
was nicknamed "Dante's Inferno" because of the fires.)
- The ASL can be thought of a sort of Love Canal for New
Orleans -- and now it sits under water.
- The ASL site is three miles south of Lake Pontchartrain
and about 2.5 north-northeast of the city's central business district (roughly
halfway between the old French Quarter and the shore of Lake Pontchartrain).
- Disturbingly, the site is also very close to the Industrial
Canal Levee, a section of which collapsed and allowed flood waters to pour
in, almost directly in the direction of the ASL site.
- Government reports describe ASL as being "bounded
on the north by Higgins Boulevard and south and west by Southern Railroads
right-of-ways. The eastern boundary of the landfill extends from the cul-de-sac
at the southern end of Clouet Street, near the railroad tracks to Higgins
Boulevard between Press and Montegut Streets."
- Locate that site on a map (see websites below), and then
overlay published maps of New Orleans flooding, and one finds the old toxic
landfill is situated right in the middle of a huge area of three-foot flooding.
That industrial area is almost continuously connected with water to the
downtown and northern areas of the city. It's not outlandish to consider
the possibility that toxic waste from the landfill may mix with floodwaters
and spread far beyond the old landfill site.
- Although the humanitarian rescue operation must take
precedence at the current time, authorities and the public must not overlook
this pollution situation, which in both the near and long-term may be dangerous
to human health and the environment. We must hope that emergency responders
will investigate this site as soon as possible and take steps to mitigate
potential off-site migration of hazardous materials. It may be that sandbag
walls are required here, as well as on the broken levees.
- This magazine will update the situation as more information
- Story prepared by Guy Crittenden, editor. Contact 705-445-0361
or firstname.lastname@example.org (See useful websites below.)