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It is the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the National Council for Science and the Environment expresses its continuing concern to all affected by this catastrophe. It is also an appropriate time to look back and to look forward. It also gives you an opportunity to view streaming video of the two hour symposium New Orleans and Katrina: Environment and Health Causes and Consequences, which was held in February 2007 as part of Integrating Environment and Human Health, NCSE's Seventh National Conference on Science, Policy and the Environment.
This summary was prepared by journalist Dawn Fallik.
As Hurricane Katrina swept across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, both land and lives were devastated. First there was the loss, then the fury and now, both environmental and health experts are trying to find a way to rebuild both health and habitat.
Denise Reed, a professor at the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of New Orleans, described the wetland damage as "falling apart from the inside out," where soft sediment and natural subsidence met in a "Swiss cheese kind of effect."
Hurricanes, she said, are both a blessing and a curse. The marshes were originally built from sediment flowing down the Mississippi River, but now due to dramatically altered waterways, the sediment heads down to the Gulf of Mexico.
So how do marshes rebuild? With the material left by the storms.
"It's a cruel irony," she said.
Reed was optimistic about harnessing the sediment and using it to rebuild the coast. But she said a new framework was needed to plan its future, one that included the fisheries, the city as well as the oil and gas industry.
Charles Demas, the director of the Louisiana Water Science Center for the U.S. Geological Survey, said those industries were also important because of what they contributed to the water after the storm - mainly oil and other contaminants.
"It was critical to get data," about what was in the water, he said. "The good news was that there weren't a lot of new contaminants. The bad news was that the concentrations were high."
Many people were concerned about groundwater and damage to aquifers, but of 14 well samples, only one had a high salt content, Demas said. Now the USGS will monitor the marshes to watch for invasive species and install new water gauges - many of which were broken by the storm surge.
For Evangeline Franklin, director of clinical services and employee health at the City of New Orleans Health Department, the loss was personal. She was housed in the Superdome, was evacuated to Dallas and returned to try and restore both the city and its people back to health.
New Orleans had its issues with surveillance before the storm, she said, and when people lost not only their lives, their homes, their animals, they also lost their access to their medical care. Those who returned faced other problems, both mental and physical.
Many of those who lived in the city were already in bad health before the storm, with high rates of obesity and poverty.
"There was severe depression and illness because of living in the FEMA trailers," Franklin said. People worried about the oil plant flooding and spillage - no one was quite sure where it was all going. And they watched the destruction of blocks and blocks of homes and hospitals and doctor's houses.
The most important lesson to be learned from the storm, Franklin said, was how to communicate - between environmental and health professionals, to the politicians and to the people. Particularly people who live in hurricane season six to eight months of the year.
"We all need to be coming out of our professional silos and working from an informed policy perspective," she said. "I would no more like to see New Orleans go away than any of us, but how is that area sustained in a healthy fashion?"
Henry Falk, the director for the Coordinating Center for Environmental Health and Injury Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said science has to drive the process of rebuilding. They have to be honest about what can be done, and what the risks are, he said.
"Ultimately, restoration isn't complete until the city is reconfigured," he said.
That includes everything from landfill capacity issues to reconfiguring the gas and electric grids and figuring out mold problems.
"It's essential that scientific work go forward to see what the risks are," he said. "To restore and think about redevelopment and work backwards from what is possible to see how do we redevelop and restore."
But the residents must also take a part, said the researchers, not only in helping rebuild, but in helping prepare for the next time.
"People, do not get complacent and do not feel safe," said Reed.
About the Symposium
The symposium featured:
Gail Bingham (Chair), President, RESOLVE
Denise J. Reed, Professor, Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of New Orleans
Charlie R. Demas, Director, Louisiana Water Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey
Henry Falk, Director, Coordinating Center for Environmental Health and Injury Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Evangeline Franklin, Director, Clinical Services and Employee Health, Health Department, City of New Orleans
A summary prepared by journalist Dawn Fallik is attached. The video can be found in two parts at:
Additional videos from the conference, including the keynote addresses Environment and Health: An Intimate Connection by Howard Frumkin, Director, National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Environment and Health: Developing Solutions by Mirta Roses Periago, Director, Pan American Health Organization, Regional Director, Regional Offices for the Americas, World Health Organization; the 7th John H. Chafee Memorial Lecture on Science and the Environment, Climate, Poverty, Health: Time for Preventive Medicine by Larry Brilliant, Executive Director, Google.org can be found at http://ncseonline.org/2007conference/cms.cfm?id=1564.
Denise Reed, a professor at the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of New Orleans, spoke about the interaction of humans and natural landscape processes. New Orleans is located on a dynamic landscape that emerged only in the last 2000 years. The sediment load of the Mississippi created the land, which is thick and soft. This land is subject to subsidence, which is why New Orleans has its characteristic bowl shape. Human interaction with the landscape results in changing drainage patterns. Levees cause the Mississippi to deposit its load into the Gulf Coast, rather than replenish the wetlands. Because of this and other man made changes, 1500 square miles of wetlands have been lost since the 1950s. The wetlands can be replenished by storms instead. Storms deposit huge amounts of materials from offshore into coastal wetlands. So ironically, hurricanes such as Katrina are good for New Orleans in the long run.
The storms of 2005, Katrina and Rita, highlighted the vulnerability of the city and the need for restoration of the natural landscape. We can restore it and provide increased protection. Since the storms, expert panels have convened to discuss the problem to think about how we plan the future of the coast. A report that came out of this in 2006, indicating the need for restoration and protection. These are intimately linked. Levees and a sustainable coastal landscapes are both essential.
The landscape relates to protection because wetlands , and it is often stated that for every 2.75 miles of wetlands, storm surge is reduced by one foot. ...
The National Council for Science and the Environment hosted a symposium to discuss lessons learned from Katrina. This is a summary of their speeches.