In 2005, Hurricane Katrina's impact on the Gulf Coast included damage to the environment from chemical and hazardous materials releases. Also, the widespread demolition and renovation activities still under way in New Orleans may release asbestos fibers into the air, posing a potential additional health risk. This report, conducted at the Comptroller General's initiative, addresses (1) the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) actions to assess and mitigate Katrina's environmental impacts, (2) the extent to which EPA has assurance that public health is protected from asbestos inhalation risks in New Orleans, (3) the extent to which EPA's environmental health risk communications provided useful information to the public, and (4) challenges EPA faces in addressing environmental impacts.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Environmental Protection Agency||1. To enhance EPA's ability to monitor and assess information on asbestos emissions resulting from the extensive demolition and renovation activities in New Orleans, the EPA Administrator should develop and implement an asbestos monitoring plan that addresses the potential health effects of both (1) the nonenforcement of certain asbestos requirements covering government-ordered demolitions of residences and (2) the general exemption from EPA's asbestos work practice standards for demolition and renovation activities of residential buildings with four or fewer dwelling units when done at the initiative of individual homeowners.|
|Environmental Protection Agency||2. To provide environmental health risk information to the public that is timely, complete, clear, and consistent about (1) the environmental contamination to which individuals may be exposed subsequent to disasters and (2) how individuals can best protect themselves, the EPA Administrator should develop protocols to ensure that the agency's communications following disasters are timely and sufficiently disclose all of the information that affected residents would need to understand the potential health risks they may face upon returning, including information on the scope and methodology for EPA's assessments of environmental health risks.|
|Environmental Protection Agency||3. To provide environmental health risk information to the public that is timely, complete, clear, and consistent about (1) the environmental contamination to which individuals may be exposed subsequent to disasters and (2) how individuals can best protect themselves, the EPA Administrator should develop clear and consistent generic information for the public regarding mitigating exposure to contaminants--such as asbestos, lead, and mold--likely to be present in many disaster situations and ensure that this information can be expeditiously communicated via all appropriate media, thereby providing the public with basic protective information at the same time that EPA is developing any additional event-specific health risk information that is needed.|
|Environmental Protection Agency||4. To better enable EPA and its partner agencies to minimize the environmental risks resulting from future disasters, the EPA Administrator should work with potentially affected federal land management agencies, the Coast Guard, DHS, and FEMA to determine what actions are needed to ensure that environmental contamination on federal lands, such as national wildlife refuges, can be expeditiously and efficiently addressed in future disasters. Potential actions include the development of protocols or memorandums of understanding or amendments to the Stafford Act if the agencies determine that amendments are needed to achieve the timely availability of such funding when responding to disasters involving federal lands.|
|Environmental Protection Agency||5. To better enable EPA and its partner agencies to minimize the environmental risks resulting from future disasters, the EPA Administrator should provide more detailed guidance to state and local entities on managing debris disposal following disasters to better ensure protection of public health and the environment and prevent the creation of future Superfund sites. This guidance should address the selection of landfill sites for disaster debris, including advance selection of potential landfill sites, and practices to consider when making special accommodations for debris disposal in emergency situations.|
|Environmental Protection Agency||6. To better enable EPA and its partner agencies to minimize the environmental risks resulting from future disasters, the EPA Administrator should work with the Army Corps of Engineers to clarify each agency's role in debris disposal and develop a memorandum of understanding or other agency protocol to allow the agencies to quickly manage and recycle white goods and electronic waste following future disasters.|