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Environmental Public Health Impacts of Disasters: Hurricane Katrina - Workshop Summary
of hospital patients to out-of-state locations helped to empty beds and prepared hospitals for attending to victims of the storms.
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH ISSUES INNEW ORLEANS AND LOUISIANA
At the time of the workshop, there were still multiple environmental health issues in the area affected by Hurricane Katrina, particularly in New Orleans. A multidisciplinary team comprising both state and federal agencies and workers was formed to address these problems, including (but not limited to) the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Public Health Service, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals/Office of Public Health. The environmental issues of concern included the following:
Unwatering. Public health service and sanitation professionals in New Orleans were evaluating the quality of the floodwaters that were being pumped into Lake Pontchartrain. They were assessing infectious and chemical agents and evaluating impacts in other areas subject to gravitational unwatering (i.e., draining of the floodwaters). At the same time, a multidisciplinary team of engineers from state and federal agencies was involved in the restoration and improvement of the levee system.
Potable water. Public health service and sanitation professionals were monitoring both municipal and community water quality and successfully conveying health warnings when water was not safe to drink.
Vector control. Pesticides were being applied to control mosquitoes and flies. The public was notified about aerial applications and disease surveillance. Elimination of standing water and removal and proper disposal of debris were encouraged to deter mosquitoes and flies from multiplying.
Safe food. The food supply in food establishments, both retail and wholesale, was being inspected and certified. The handling and disposal of spoiled or contaminated products and ensuring the safety of the commercial seafood harvest were monitored.
Waste disposal. Solid waste and debris were being removed, transported, and disposed of. Hazardous materials were isolated for proper disposal, and the debris sites were monitored for environmental exposure by EPA and DEQ.
Wastewater systems. Wastewater collection systems were being repaired, rebuilt, and reconfigured. Technical assistance was available from the multidisciplinary teams to all systems, both urban and rural, in the affected region. There was a time after Hurricane Katrina when the sewer disposal system, the pumps, and the treatment center in New Orleans were all submerged in 20 feet of water,