eral agencies and departments, including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Labor, are involved in the national response plan. All the departments have a significant role to play at the federal, state, and local levels.
The type of incident and the location determine which agency will lead the response. For example, the Coast Guard is the lead agency when oil spills occur in the water, and EPA addresses oil spills on land. Both agencies closely coordinate their activities. For hurricanes, EPA either readies or pre-deploys personnel to the National Response Coordination Center of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. EPA also has its own emergency operation center and sends coordinators to the threatened areas. For Hurricane Katrina, EPA provided guidance on debris issues and assisted in the restoration of drinking water and wastewater treatment systems and the associated infrastructure. EPA also addressed hazardous releases and oil spills.
One of EPA’s primary concerns during Hurricane Katrina was the floodwaters caused by the levee breaks. These floodwaters were covering a number of potential hazards, including the major sewer system for much of New Orleans, which caused concern about fecal contamination. Also, because some National Priority Listed Superfund sites (the nation’s worst toxic waste sites) are in the New Orleans area, EPA had concerns about contaminants in the floodwaters. For this reason EPA began to analyze the floodwaters throughout the city. The agency ensured that its staff was following a sound scientific protocol in analyzing the floodwaters, and it also wanted to make sure that there was public confidence in the data. Hurricane Katrina was a real-time disaster; the EPA staff therefore needed to fulfill its tasks expeditiously in order to address multiple questions and concerns.
EPA worked closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the affected states’ governments to put together a water quality monitoring plan. In addition, EPA’s Science Advisory Board convened to provide advice and counsel while instituting a water sampling program. In coordination with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, multiple samples (631 at the time of the workshop) were taken from different sample sites, such as Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico. A total of 400 samples have been analyzed and validated and the information made available to all government agencies, first responders, and the public.
Floodwater results for September 4, 2005, showed lead detected at levels exceeding EPA drinking water standards (EPA, 2005a). Furthermore, depending