Katrina: account from an EPA rep

A Boing Boing reader who owns an environmental cleanup services company — and asks to remain anonymous here — says,

Thanks for publishing my plea to get involved the other day. Unfortunately nothing has come of that. No one is proceeding at this point. However, plenty of opportunities to help refugees in Atlanta are now available, so that's where my time has gone.

My company cleans up waste industrial gas cylinders and specialty chemicals. As such we are in contact with the EPA regularly and often work for the government. As you might imagine, there is expected to be a large number of cylinders recovered from Katrina, and many will probably be in bad shape, or even unknowns, which can present hazard. Today a consultant who works with us and the EPA came back from the Gulf region. Here are some of the things that he had to report:

* He said that the 30 elderly who died in the nursing home were simply forgotten. They were supposed to be rescued but someone dropped the ball and they died.

* There are now 130,000 people working in the Gulf region, including 60,000 National Guard. Conditions for these workers, especially the contractors, are extremely hard. Many are sleeping in their cars and have to supply their own food and water. There is as yet no infrastructure in place to support this group. 80% of these people have terrible diarrhea and some have been hospitalized.

* Under Homeland Security, FEMA is supposed to be in charge, but they have been marginalized due to their obvious screw ups. The National Guard is now in charge in the region and they have no experience in these matters. This is aggravating a bad situation.

* The plan going forward for New Orleans is to demolish all the houses and burn them. There is nowhere to bury the waste in the region so they will incinerate it all. Before that can go on, they will have to search every house for chemical hazards.

* They have found large numbers of seals in and around the houses in NOLA and no one is clear where they came from. An aquarium?

* They are shooting hundreds of dogs a day to protect search and rescue workers. The Humane Society shelters in the region have over 4000 animals.

* The entire Gulfport region is blocked by National Guard and only authorized contractors can get in. An RV campground has grown up outside the roadblock of 80 or more contractors hoping to get a piece of the action. These people have signs outside saying, "Mold Expert," "Asbestos Contractor," etc. They are having cookouts at their RVs just to try to get people to come and talk to them.

* Cell phone towers are on their way from Germany to get the communication infrastructure back in place. The EPA ordered 40 satellite phones to get their people in contact. Those phones have arrived, but no one ordered SIM cards and these phones are currently useless.

* This contractor has been organizing reverse osmosis (RO) water purification units from all over the country since last Tuesday. He has over 100 units of various sizes available to move into the region, but no one will give the go ahead. No one will sign their name to a piece of paper for fear recriminations later. He says that over 80 million pint bottles of water have been purchased at $0.75 each. The RO units can produce a gallon of water from contaminated water for $0.01 and they can produce thousands of gallons a day. Two are staged near the zone and these alone can produce 250,000 gallons per day. The Army has RO units, but every functional one, and every operator trained to use them, is in Iraq or Afghanistan.

* The Navy ship Bataan, which has been widely reported to be available for producing water, can only do desalination, but cannot handle contaminated water.

* All of the Army's good gear, including vehicles and generators are overseas. Humvees and other vehicles in the Gulf region are breaking down frequently.

Certainly I cannot attest to the absolute reliability of all this information, but it is from a reliable source who has been involved with EPA response to hazardous situations for 20 years.

He confirms what everyone else has already said: the clusterfuck down there is beyond all imagining.