Hurricane Katrina: EPA's Current and Future Environmental	 
Protection Efforts Could Be Enhanced by Addressing Issues and	 
Challenges Faced on the Gulf Coast (25-JUN-07, GAO-07-651).	 
                                                                 
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.				 
-------------------------Indexing Terms------------------------- 
REPORTNUM:   GAO-07-651 					        
    ACCNO:   A71347						        
  TITLE:     Hurricane Katrina: EPA's Current and Future Environmental
Protection Efforts Could Be Enhanced by Addressing Issues and	 
Challenges Faced on the Gulf Coast				 
     DATE:   06/25/2007 
  SUBJECT:   Air quality					 
	     Asbestos						 
	     Chemicals						 
	     Demolition 					 
	     Environmental cleanups				 
	     Environmental monitoring				 
	     Government information dissemination		 
	     Hazardous substances				 
	     Health hazards					 
	     Hurricane Katrina					 
	     Impacted areas					 
	     National response plan				 
	     Pollution control					 
	     Program evaluation 				 
	     Public health					 
	     Risk assessment					 
	     Waste disposal					 
	     Water quality					 
	     Louisiana						 

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GAO-07-651

   

     * [1]Report to Congressional Committees

          * [2]June 2007

     * [3]HURRICANE KATRINA

          * [4]EPA's Current and Future Environmental Protection Efforts
            Could Be Enhanced by Addressing Issues and Challenges Faced on
            the Gulf Coast

     * [5]Contents

          * [6]Results in Brief
          * [7]Background
          * [8]EPA Has Taken Numerous Actions to Mitigate and Assess the
            Environmental Impacts of Katrina

               * [9]EPA Has Conducted a Variety of Activities to Mitigate the
                 Impacts of Oil Spills and Hazardous Materials Releases
               * [10]EPA Has Sampled the Air, Water, and Sediment and Soil in
                 Affected Gulf Coast Areas to Identify and Assess
                 Environmental Contamination Caused by the Storm

          * [11]EPA's Air Monitoring for Releases of Asbestos Fibers in New
            Orleans Does Not Adequately Address Neighborhoods with
            Substantial Building Demolition and Renovation Activities

               * [12]EPA's Clean Air Act Asbestos Regulation Covering
                 Building Demolition Activities Seeks to Minimize the
                 Significant Human Health Risks Associated with Exposure to
                 Asbestos Fibers in the Air
               * [13]EPA Has Issued "No Action Assurances" for Certain Clean
                 Air Act Asbestos Requirements Governing the Demolition of
                 Buildings to Help Expedite the Gulf Coast Cleanup
               * [14]Current Asbestos Monitoring Is Not Sufficient to Assess
                 the Potential Public Health and Environmental Impacts of
                 Demolition and Renovation Activities

          * [15]Some Shortcomings in EPA's Communications on Environmental
            Health Risks Have Limited the Communications' Usefulness to the
            Public

               * [16]EPA's Insufficient Disclosure about Its Decisions
                 Regarding Sampling of Contaminants Limited Residents'
                 Understanding of the Potential Health Risks of Returning
                 Home
               * [17]Some Information EPA Provided to Residents in Its Public
                 Service Communications Was Unclear and Inconsistent

          * [18]EPA Faced Challenges in Assessing and Mitigating Some
            Environmental Impacts of the Gulf Coast Hurricanes

               * [19]Funding Issues Delayed Cleanups at National Wildlife
                 Refuges for More Than a Year
               * [20]EPA Has a Limited Debris Management Role under Federal
                 Law and the National Response Plan, and Its Guidance to
                 States on Making Certain Emergency Debris Disposal Decisions
                 Is Limited
               * [21]Lack of Clarity on Federal Debris Management Roles
                 Delayed Actions to Ensure That White Goods and Electronic
                 Waste Were Handled in a Timely and Appropriate Manner

          * [22]Conclusions
          * [23]Recommendations for Executive Action
          * [24]Agency Comments and Our Evaluation

     * [25]Objectives, Scope, and Methodology
     * [26]Comments from the Environmental Protection Agency

          * [27]GAO Comments

     * [28]GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments

Report to Congressional Committees

June 2007

HURRICANE KATRINA

EPA's Current and Future Environmental Protection Efforts Could Be
Enhanced by Addressing Issues and Challenges Faced on the Gulf Coast

Contents

June 25, 2007

Letter

Congressional Committees

The scope and severity of the destruction that Hurricane Katrina caused on
the Gulf Coast in 2005 are staggering. More than 1,600 people lost their
lives and more than a million were driven from their homes, many still
unable to return. Moreover, tens of thousands of homes in New Orleans were
flooded, many requiring either demolition or gutting before
reconstruction. This natural disaster affected an area of over 90,000
square miles, destroying or severely damaging not only countless buildings
but also bridges, roads, and the area's power and communications
infrastructures. Hurricane Katrina severely damaged the environment as
well: Millions of gallons of oil and unknown quantities of potentially
hazardous chemicals were released into the environment.^1 Hazardous
materials--such as industrial drums containing toxic and flammable
chemicals, asbestos-containing materials, household chemicals, paints,
pesticides, and propane tanks--were commingled with the storm's
unprecedented levels of other debris, slowing its collection and disposal.
The environmental contamination caused by this natural disaster could have
both short- and long-term effects on the health of residents in affected
areas, as well as on workers, volunteers, and wildlife.

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act
establishes programs and processes for the federal government to provide
major disaster and emergency assistance to states, local governments,
tribal nations, individuals, and qualified private nonprofit
organizations. Under the Stafford Act, state governors may request
assistance from the federal government when an incident overwhelms state
and local resources. Such assistance has been--and to some extent
continues to be--provided to the Gulf Coast under the Department of
Homeland Security's (DHS) National Response Plan. This plan serves as a
basis for how federal departments and agencies are to work together with
state, local, and tribal governments and the private sector in managing
incidents requiring a coordinated federal response, including a major
disaster such as Hurricane Katrina that was determined to be an "incident
of national significance." Key federal agencies with responsibilities for
supporting and implementing state and local recovery efforts in the Gulf
Coast include DHS's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers.

1Unless otherwise noted, this report addresses EPA�s response to Hurricane
Katrina, the storm that caused the bulk of the hurricane-related damage to
the Gulf Coast in 2005. Other storms, in particular Hurricane Rita, also
caused significant damage to the region in 2005, some in the same areas
hit by Katrina.

EPA serves as the coordinator of emergency support for the oil and
hazardous materials response, 1 of 15 emergency support functions
identified in the National Response Plan. When the National Response Plan
is activated, EPA and the Coast Guard are the primary agencies that
provide federal support in response to actual or potential discharges of
oil or hazardous materials, including assessments and cleanups. The
National Response Plan incorporates many aspects of the National
Contingency Plan, a plan for responding to releases of oil or hazardous
materials.^2 This plan implements provisions of the Clean Water Act and
the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act
of 1980 (CERCLA, also called the Superfund law).Under the Superfund law,
EPA conducts short-term cleanups to address immediate threats to
communities from actual or potential releases of hazardous substances and
conducts or oversees long-term cleanups of the nation's Superfund sites.

EPA also has a role in assisting other agencies that are coordinating
other emergency support functions under the National Response Plan,
including public works and engineering (assisting with such tasks as
contaminated debris management) and public health and medical services
response (providing such support as technical assistance in assessing the
health aspects of situations involving hazardous materials). Aside from
the emergency support roles defined in the plan, EPA enforces key
environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act. To facilitate the removal
of the extraordinary amounts of debris in Louisiana and Mississippi after
Hurricane Katrina, EPA is not enforcing certain Clean Air Act emissions
standards for asbestos in the case of government-ordered demolitions of
homes. In addition, these emissions standards generally do not apply to
the demolition or renovation of homes by or for individual homeowners.
Nevertheless, because asbestos inhaled into the lungs can cause cancer, it
is important for EPA to ensure that public health risks are minimized
during the demolition and renovation of buildings containing asbestos,
activities that can release asbestos fibers into the air.

2Under the National Contingency Plan, EPA and the Coast Guard also serve
as primary responders.

In this context, we (1) reviewed EPA's actions under the National Response
Plan to assess and mitigate the environmental impacts of Hurricane
Katrina, (2) determined the extent to which EPA has assurance that public
health in New Orleans is being protected from asbestos inhalation health
risks posed by extensive demolition activities, (3) determined the extent
to which EPA's communications on environmental health risks posed by
Hurricane Katrina have provided useful information to the public, and (4)
identified challenges EPA has faced in addressing environmental impacts of
Hurricane Katrina that, if mitigated, could enable EPA to better protect
the environment in future disasters. Because of the widespread
congressional interest in these subjects, we are conducting this work at
the Comptroller General's initiative.

In conducting our work, we reviewed relevant laws and regulations, DHS's
National Response Plan, federal and state protocols related to the
hazardous materials response to Katrina, and evaluations of the federal
government's Katrina response actions. We also reviewed, for example, EPA
planning documents, environmental risk assessment summaries and related
communications, and federal guidance to state and local agencies related
to the 2005 hurricane response. We interviewed officials from EPA's Office
of Emergency Management, Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance,
Office of Water, Office of Air and Radiation, and Office of Solid Waste,
among other headquarters offices. We met with EPA officials in Regions 4
and 6 in Mississippi and Louisiana, visited EPA's Incident Command Centers
in Mississippi and Louisiana, and toured affected areas in both states. We
also interviewed federal officials from FEMA, the Department of Health and
Human Services' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Army Corps of
Engineers, and the Department of the Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service. In addition, we interviewed state and local officials involved
with EPA's response efforts from the Louisiana and Mississippi Departments
of Environmental Quality and from Jefferson, Plaquemines, Orleans, and St.
Bernard Parishes in Louisiana and from Jackson, Hancock, and Harrison
Counties in Mississippi. We also spoke with national and regional
stakeholder groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the
Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, the Louisiana Environmental Action
Network, the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, the
Mississippi Environmental Recovery Alliance, the Mississippi Power
Company, and Sierra Club chapters in Louisiana and Mississippi. In
determining the extent to which EPA's communications on Hurricane
Katrina's environmental health risks provided useful information to the
public, we focused on the communications themselves and did not evaluate
the agency's environmental risk assessment methodology. (See app. I for a
more detailed description of the scope and methodology of our review.) We
conducted our work from November 2005 through June 2007 in accordance with
generally accepted government auditing standards.

Results in Brief

Under challenging circumstances, EPA conducted a wide variety of
activities to assess and mitigate the environmental impacts of Hurricane
Katrina. As of December 2006, EPA had spent an estimated $416 million on
its hurricane response and, at its peak, employed about 1,600 staff and
contractors on response activities. For example, EPA and its contractors,
along with other federal and state partners, have responded to chemical
and oil spills at industrial facilities; have collected over 200,000 large
abandoned containers, such as drums and tanks; and continue to oversee
cleanup of a million-gallon oil spill at a facility in St. Bernard Parish,
Louisiana, that affected neighboring homes. EPA has also coordinated
recycling efforts for damaged refrigerators and other appliances (referred
to as "white goods") to remove chlorofluorocarbons and other refrigerants
that are harmful to the environment from 380,000 abandoned refrigerators,
freezers, and air conditioners. In addition, EPA helped collect and
recycle over 660,000 units of electronic waste and removed and safely
disposed of almost 5 million household hazardous waste containers, such as
paint cans and propane tanks. Because of the extensive number of home
demolitions and renovations that have yet to be completed in the New
Orleans area, debris removal from uninhabited residences is far from
complete. Regarding assessing the environmental contamination caused by
the hurricane, EPA conducted air, water, and sediment and soil sampling
for chemicals of potential concern in Louisiana and Mississippi. In
particular, EPA reports having collected about 1,800 sediment and soil
samples since September 2005 in and around New Orleans. EPA has analyzed
most of these samples for over 200 potentially harmful metals and organic
chemicals. In coordination with state and local partners, including the
Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, EPA concluded that, in
general, the sediments left behind by the flooding are not expected to
cause adverse health impacts to individuals returning to New Orleans. In
addition, EPA helped both the Louisiana and Mississippi Departments of
Environmental Quality perform 4,000 drinking water and wastewater
infrastructure assessments to help bring these facilities back online as
quickly as possible.

However, as cleanup continues, EPA's assurance that the public health is
being protected from the risks associated with the inhalation of asbestos
fibers is limited because the agency has not deployed air monitors in and
around neighborhoods in New Orleans where demolition and renovation
activities are concentrated. EPA took steps to monitor asbestos after
Hurricane Katrina, initially more than doubling the ambient (outdoor) air
monitors that were in the area before the storm and then conducting
emissions monitoring at specific sites, such as landfills, that involve
waste handling or debris reduction activities--for example, grinding.
However, EPA has neither conducted emissions monitoring at demolition
sites nor placed ambient air monitors in neighborhoods with substantial
demolition and renovation activities. For example, no monitors have been
located in the Ninth Ward, where flooding was widespread and extensive
demolition and renovation are occurring. This is problematic because,
according to officials from EPA's Office of Research and Development,
monitors are effective in detecting asbestos emissions from demolitions
only if they are located immediately adjacent to the sites. Further, in
July 2006, the agency scaled back its ambient monitoring to the prestorm
level and reduced the frequency of sampling. EPA said it based this
decision, in part, on not having found measurable amounts of asbestos in
the air samples. However, EPA's expanded monitoring covered only the first
few months of demolition activities. For these reasons, the results may
not be representative of asbestos exposures in some neighborhoods.
Further, for building demolition and renovation activities, EPA regulates
asbestos emissions by setting standards for work practices. However, EPA's
asbestos work practice standards generally do not apply to the demolition
or renovation of a residential building by or for an individual homeowner.
In addition, to help expedite cleanup and rebuilding, EPA is not enforcing
some of the work practice standards for certain residences under
government demolition orders, although for these demolitions, some work
practice standards--such as the wetting of materials from before
demolition through disposal in order to control emissions--are still
required. The fact that many thousands of demolitions and renovations may
occur in the same geographic area and in the same general time frame--some
of which are not subject to the enforcement of certain asbestos work
practice standards while others are not subject to the standards at
all--represents a potential health problem that warrants monitoring.

In addition, while EPA provided a substantial amount of useful information
to the public on environmental health risks using reports (environmental
assessment summaries), flyers, public service announcements, and EPA's Web
page, the usefulness of this information was limited in several ways.
Specifically, some key communications about the environmental
contamination in New Orleans stemming from Hurricane Katrina were not
timely or complete. For example, EPA's communications about the potential
health risks from environmental contamination--three environmental
assessment summaries prepared with, among others, the Louisiana Department
of Environmental Quality--were released about 3, 6, and 11 months after
the hurricane, limiting their usefulness to residents who would have
benefited from more timely information about the environmental health
risks they could face when returning home. Further, EPA did not disclose
until August 2006 that its December 2005 assessment summary--which said
that the great majority of the data showed that adverse health effects
would not be expected from exposure to sediments from previously flooded
areas--applied to short-term visits, such as to view damage to homes. In
addition, the summaries do not disclose an important EPA assumption--that
the results of sediment samples from streets and other outdoor public
access areas can be extrapolated to private properties, such as yards and
the inside of homes. This is important because, for example, environmental
contamination levels inside buildings can be significantly higher than and
different from the contamination outside, potentially causing more adverse
health effects. Finally, some of EPA's flyers and other public service
communications provided unclear and inconsistent information on actions
residents should take to mitigate exposure to contaminants that were
likely to be found in many homes. For example, the most widely distributed
flyer on environmental health risks stated that buildings constructed
before 1970 are likely to contain asbestos, while a document on debris and
damaged buildings on EPA's Web page stated that all structures built
before 1975 may contain significant amounts of asbestos and that
structures built after 1975 may also contain asbestos. EPA also used
varying and confusing terms when identifying the respiratory protection
that residents should wear in many cases when cleaning up their homes.

EPA faced some challenges in addressing the environmental impacts of
Hurricane Katrina that, if mitigated, could better enable EPA to protect
the environment in future disasters.

oFirst, EPA did not remove clearly visible abandoned chemical drums and
tanks from several national wildlife refuges in Louisiana in a timely
manner as part of its Katrina response activities in part because FEMA
disaster assistance funding generally is not used for debris cleanups on
federal lands. As a result, more than a year later, debris containing
hazardous materials continued to pose an environmental threat to natural
resources at several national wildlife refuges, and at least one major
refuge remained closed to the public. While the Fish and Wildlife Service
obtained funding for this activity as part of a June 2006 supplemental
appropriation and signed interagency agreements with EPA and the Coast
Guard to obtain these agencies' assistance in the fall of 2006, the delay
in removing the debris from this and other wildlife refuges complicated
and increased the cost of its removal--some of which is not yet completed.

oSecond, EPA's debris management role is limited under federal law and the
National Response Plan; consequently, its guidance to states and
localities on planning for disposal of disaster debris could be especially
important in helping ensure that hazardous storm debris is disposed of in
landfills with appropriate safeguards, thereby preventing contaminants
from migrating and causing air, soil, or water pollution. However, while
EPA's 1995 guide on planning for disposal of disaster debris acknowledges
that such debris can overwhelm existing landfills or force communities to
use disposal options that otherwise would not be acceptable, the guide
does not make specific suggestions for addressing these potential
problems--such as studying potential sites for future use--or practices
that state agencies should consider when making special debris disposal
accommodations following disasters.^3 Along these lines, in its emergency
orders following Hurricane Katrina, the state of Louisiana made decisions
about landfill sites and the disposal of debris that some studies indicate
could have long-term, negative environmental impacts.

oFinally, because of a lack of clarity in the National Response Plan and
the absence of interagency protocols about federal roles in debris
management, EPA, in the immediate aftermath of the storms, could not
ensure that debris such as white goods and electronic waste was handled in
a timely and appropriate manner that mitigated the potential for
environmental contamination. Local officials in both Louisiana and
Mississippi told us that confusion about responsibility for this work
resulted in delays in removing and disposing of the debris, creating the
potential in the weeks following Katrina that it was improperly disposed
of in landfills.

3EPA Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, Planning for Disaster
Debris (December 1995).

We are making recommendations to EPA to implement an asbestos monitoring
plan that addresses the potential health impacts in New Orleans from
ongoing extensive demolition and renovation activities, improve its future
communications to the public on environmental risks resulting from
disasters, and take several actions to better enable the agency to
minimize environmental risks following disasters. In commenting on a draft
of this report, EPA's Associate Administrator for Homeland Security agreed
with all but one of the recommendations. Specifically, EPA agreed with the
recommendations to provide additional asbestos air monitoring in New
Orleans, improve environmental health risk communications following
disasters, provide more guidance to states on managing debris disposal
following disasters, and clarify debris management roles with the Army
Corps of Engineers. However, EPA disagreed with our recommendation that
the agency convene a working group that includes potentially affected
federal land management agencies and the Coast Guard to develop protocols
or memorandums of understanding on the steps the agencies should take to
obtain disaster funding for environmental cleanups on federal lands in the
future--and thereby address damage to federal lands and wildlife in a
timely and efficient manner. Rather, EPA asserted that this recommendation
would be more appropriately addressed to the Department of the Interior
and FEMA. We continue to believe that EPA should be involved in helping
resolve these issues because, under the National Response Plan, EPA is the
chair of the National Response Team, whose duties include national
planning and response coordination for oil and hazardous materials
incidents. We do agree that FEMA, which declined to provide funding to the
Department of the Interior for cleanup after Hurricane Katrina, and DHS,
which coordinates the federal response to such incidents as major
disasters under the National Response Plan, should also take part in
planning efforts to resolve funding issues concerning the removal of
hazardous materials from federal lands following a disaster. Accordingly,
we have modified our recommendation to state that EPA should also work
with DHS and FEMA, as well as with federal land management agencies and
the Coast Guard, 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. EPA also provided comments on aspects of the report it
considered misleading or inaccurate, as well as technical comments, which
we incorporated as appropriate. EPA's letter and our detailed response to
it appear in appendix II.

Background

Issued in December 2004, the Department of Homeland Security's National
Response Plan establishes a comprehensive framework for the management of
domestic incidents where federal involvement is necessary. Hurricane
Katrina marked the first time the National Response Plan was implemented
in response to an "incident of national significance"--an actual or
potential high-impact event that requires a coordinated response by a
combination of federal, state, local, tribal, nongovernmental, or
private-sector entities in order to save lives, minimize damage, and
provide the basis for long-term community recovery and mitigation
activities.^4 The National Response Plan describes the structure and
process of this national approach, sets forth federal roles and
responsibilities, and includes 15 emergency support function annexes that
describe the missions and responsibilities of federal agencies for
coordinating resource and program support in specific disaster response
areas.

Under the National Response Plan, EPA serves as the coordinator of the
federal emergency support function for oil and hazardous materials
releases. Under this support function, both EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard
are the primary agencies charged with providing the federal support,
including assessments and cleanups in response to releases. According to
the plan, EPA generally leads responses to inland releases, while the
Coast Guard leads responses to releases in coastal zones. The National
Response Plan incorporates the structures and response mechanisms of the
National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan, the
federal government's guide to oil and hazardous substances spill response
under the Clean Water Act and the Superfund law. EPA's role under the
National Response Plan and the National Contingency Plan is similar:
providing response and recovery actions to minimize threats to public
health, welfare, or the environment caused by the actual or potential
release of oil and hazardous materials. However, in the context of
providing major disaster assistance to the states under the Stafford Act,
EPA's response is approved and funded by FEMA, while when it responds
under the National Contingency Plan, EPA uses its own processes and
funding, based on its authority under the Clean Water Act or Superfund
law. Thus, in its Hurricane Katrina response, EPA actions were primarily
funded by FEMA; however, EPA used Superfund authority and funding to test
for contamination at Superfund sites in the affected Gulf Coast area.

4The National Response Plan applies to all incidents requiring a
coordinated federal response as part of an appropriate combination of
federal, state, local, tribal, private-sector, and nongovernmental
entities. For incidents requiring a coordinated federal response, but
of lesser severity than an incident of national significance, the plan
includes a comprehensive network of incident annexes and supplemental
federal contingency plans that may be implemented by the departments
and agencies with established authorities in coordination with the
National Response Plan framework.

Under the National Response Plan, other agencies, including the Department
of Defense (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) and the Department of Health and
Human Services, are given supporting roles in the federal response to oil
and hazardous materials releases. The Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is
also the primary federal agency tasked with providing technical
assistance, engineering, and construction management resources and support
during response activities related to public works and engineering. Among
other things, the Corps is responsible for providing debris removal and
disposal and the repair, replacement, or restoration of disaster-damaged
public facilities. EPA provides support to the Corps for, among other
activities, assessing drinking water supplies and wastewater and solid
waste facilities. The Department of Health and Human Services is the
primary federal agency tasked with assisting state, local, and tribal
governments in identifying and meeting public health and medical services
needs. Health and Human Services' responsibilities include providing
medical care personnel, equipment, and supplies and coordinating with EPA
and the Corps on water and wastewater issues, solid waste disposal issues,
and other environmental health issues. The Department of Health and Human
Services also determines the appropriateness of requests for public health
and medical information.^5

EPA can exercise its existing environmental authorities during disaster
response activities. For example, under the Clean Air Act, EPA regulates
emissions of volatile organic compounds in gasoline, which contribute to
the formation of ground-level ozone. Also under the Clean Air Act, EPA
regulates emissions of air toxics such as asbestos. Under the Superfund
law, EPA responds to the actual or threatened release of hazardous
substances that pose a threat to public health or welfare or the
environment. In this regard, EPA maintains the National Priorities List,
its list of seriously contaminated Superfund sites.^6 Under the Resource
Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), EPA has a role in establishing
criteria for classifying different types of solid waste disposal
facilities (generally referred to as landfills) and solid waste disposal
practices that may result in adverse effects on health or the environment.
In order to facilitate response and recovery activities following the
hurricanes, EPA exercised its enforcement discretion by issuing "no action
assurance" letters stating that EPA would not enforce certain Clean Air
Act requirements for building demolitions involving asbestos-containing
material to facilitate debris removal in Louisiana and Mississippi.
According to EPA, the agency also waived some Clean Air Act fuel
requirements to prevent fuel supply interruptions in the months following
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

5In addition, the primary Joint Information Center, established in support
of the National Response Plan, is authorized to release general medical and
public health response information to the public after consultation with
the Department of Health and Human Services. The Joint Information Center
is a physical location where public affairs professionals from
organizations involved in incident management activities provide
emergency information, crisis communications, and public affairs support.

EPA Has Taken Numerous Actions to Mitigate and Assess the Environmental
Impacts of Katrina

Under challenging circumstances, EPA conducted a wide variety of
activities to assess and mitigate the environmental impacts of Hurricane
Katrina. Specifically, EPA and federal and state partners have responded
to chemical and oil spills at industrial facilities, collected abandoned
chemical drums and tanks, and coordinated recycling efforts for damaged
refrigerators and other appliances. EPA has also taken a number of actions
to assess the environmental contamination caused by the hurricane,
including conducting air, water, and sediment and soil sampling for
chemicals of potential concern in Louisiana and Mississippi.

6The Hazard Ranking System is the principal mechanism EPA uses to place
sites on the National Priorities List. The system serves as a screening
device to evaluate the potential for releases of uncontrolled hazardous
substances to cause human health or environmental damage.

EPA Has Conducted a Variety of Activities to Mitigate the Impacts of Oil
Spills and Hazardous Materials Releases

As of December 2006, EPA had spent an estimated $416 million on a wide
variety of activities to assess and mitigate the environmental impacts of
the hurricanes.^7 At its peak, EPA had about 1,600 staff and contractors
working in the Gulf Coast region to assist with response and cleanup
activities, as well as thousands of additional employees supporting the
agency's response from headquarters and regional offices across the
country.^8 Because EPA's environmental protection responsibilities require
it to be among the first federal agencies to arrive after a disaster,
before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, EPA deployed personnel and
resources to FEMA and state emergency operations centers in Louisiana,
Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida to facilitate a quick response in the
states threatened by Katrina. In this regard, the agency assumed an
unanticipated role in New Orleans, joining federal, state, and local
responders in the massive search and rescue efforts in the days following
the storm. Using watercraft equipped to address oil and hazardous
substances releases, EPA staff and contractors helped save nearly 800
residents from the New Orleans floodwaters.

As the coordinator for the federal response to actual or potential oil and
hazardous materials releases under the National Response Plan, EPA led
efforts to evaluate and clean up such spills on land and in inland waters,
while the Coast Guard led these efforts for spills into coastal waters.^9
EPA conducted "reconnaissance" activities at the many industrial
facilities, such as oil refineries and chemical plants, in the Gulf Coast
area to identify and plan any cleanup needed as a result of Katrina's
impact. Specifically, EPA conducted aerial and ground assessments of these
facilities and used facility self-assessments to determine the magnitude
of potential hazardous releases and to prioritize facilities needing
additional assessments. EPA also conducted cleanups at stores selling
chemicals for swimming pools, home repair and building supply stores, and
other sites. Working with the Louisiana Department of Environmental
Quality, EPA also evaluated potentially hazardous chemicals at over 350
chemistry and biology laboratories in schools in southern Louisiana,
removing chemicals from more than 130 schools.

7EPA officials said that, as of December 31, 2006, EPA had received
funding from FEMA totaling $718.4 million. Of this amount, EPA had
obligated $563.7 million and had expended $415.5 million, including
$80.1 million passed directly to the U.S. Coast Guard. In addition,
EPA had expended approximately $13 million of appropriated resources
in support of the responses to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

8EPA used its existing emergency support contracts during its Katrina
response: (1) Emergency and Rapid Response Services contracts for
personnel, equipment, and materials to provide emergency removal and
remedial response cleanup services, including containing, recovering,
and disposing of hazardous substances; and (2) Superfund Technical
Assessment and Response Team contracts for personnel providing
technical support for gathering and analyzing site assessment
technical data, preparing reports on oil and hazardous substance
investigations, and providing technical support for cleanup efforts.

9The Coast Guard estimated that 8 million gallons of oil were released
due to Katrina and that the hurricane caused six major spills (at
least 100,000 gallons each) and numerous minor ones (less than 10,000
gallons each).

In addition, EPA worked with the Coast Guard and the Louisiana Department
of Environmental Quality to oversee sampling and cleanup of a large oil
spill at the Murphy Oil USA refinery in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. The
floodwaters from Katrina had damaged a large aboveground storage tank at
the refinery, releasing about 1 million gallons of mixed crude oil onto
the facility and an adjacent residential neighborhood, affecting
approximately 1,800 homes. EPA and the Coast Guard divided responsibility
for overseeing Murphy Oil's voluntary cleanup of the spill. EPA worked
with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality to oversee Murphy
Oil's cleanup in residential areas accessible to the public, such as
parks, school yards, roads, and sidewalks.^10 In addition, EPA is
continuing to oversee Murphy Oil's soil sampling at residential and other
properties--for example, by having 10 percent of the soil samples Murphy
Oil collects analyzed by both Murphy Oil and a separate laboratory as a
quality control measure. According to EPA officials, the agency will
continue to oversee Murphy Oil's cleanup of affected areas until these
activities are complete.^11

Other EPA efforts to mitigate the environmental impacts of Hurricane
Katrina have centered on managing the disposition of debris that may
contain hazardous materials. Specifically, EPA established a plan to
segregate, collect, and properly dispose of debris such as household
hazardous waste (household cleaning chemicals, paints, and pesticides);
electronic waste (computers, televisions, printers, DVD players, and other
electronics); and white goods (large appliances such as air conditioners,
dishwashers, refrigerators, stoves, and freezers). These items frequently
contain contaminants, such as lead, mercury, or chlorofluorocarbons, that
can enter the ground, water, or air if they are not disposed of properly.
In both Louisiana and Mississippi, EPA organized neighborhood curbside
pickups of household hazardous waste and circulated information about
them; EPA also worked with local officials to establish collection and
drop-off sites for debris that may contain hazardous materials. In
addition, EPA established debris staging areas for sorting and
categorizing industrial and household hazardous waste that EPA and its
contractors had collected, draining and recycling hazardous chemicals, and
ensuring that hazardous containers were disposed of properly. As of
September 1, 2006, EPA's efforts to facilitate the appropriate disposal of
debris that may contain hazardous materials had resulted in the

ocollection of more than 5.1 million containers of potentially hazardous
waste consisting of about 4.9 million small household containers and about
200,000 large abandoned containers, such as drums, tanks, and cylinders;

oremoval of the chlorofluorocarbons and other refrigerants that are
harmful to the environment and recycling of 380,000 white goods; and

ocollection and recycling of over 660,000 units of electronic waste.

10The Coast Guard oversaw the company�s removal of oil from the canals in
the area, an oil tank farm containment area, and storm drains.

11Murphy Oil agreed to settle a class action lawsuit brought against the
company by individuals and entities that were allegedly injured or damaged
from the oil spill. In January 2007, a court approved a $330 million
settlement agreement that pays for the acquisition of property, damage
remediation, and compensation for losses. Turner v. Murphy Oil U.S.A.,
Inc., No. 05-4206 (E.D. LA. filed Aug. 9, 2005).

EPA Has Sampled the Air, Water, and Sediment and Soil in Affected Gulf
Coast Areas to Identify and Assess Environmental Contamination Caused by
the Storm

EPA also conducted numerous activities to identify and assess air, water,
and sediment and soil contamination in Gulf Coast areas affected by
Katrina. For example, EPA was concerned about the potential environmental
impact of Katrina on the 24 Superfund sites in the affected Gulf Coast
areas. These sites are on EPA's National Priorities List, which identifies
the agency's highest-priority cleanup sites. Many of the Gulf Coast
Superfund sites have been cleaned up and have remedies in place to
maintain the standard of cleanup achieved.^12 To determine whether the
hurricane had caused additional contamination, from September 29 to
October 14, 2005, EPA collected sediment, surface water, and groundwater
samples at or near the 24 Superfund sites in Louisiana, Mississippi, and
Alabama, comparing the samples obtained after the hurricane with
pre-Katrina samples collected during remedial investigations or routine
monitoring activities.^13 EPA found that four sites in Louisiana had
elevated contaminant levels, one with contaminants that had not been
previously detected.^14 Given the particular situations at these four
Superfund sites, EPA determined that continued monitoring according to the
sites' routine operation and maintenance plans would address these
problems. On the basis of the sampling results, EPA concluded that the
other 20 sites reviewed were not impacted by Katrina. Additionally, EPA
Region 4 conducted soil and sediment samples near several industrial
facilities in the affected areas of Mississippi to determine if flooding
from Katrina had released hazardous materials. With one exception, the
region found that there did not appear to be any indication of any
potential releases due to the hurricane.^15

12EPA also assessed the potential impact on an additional 30 Superfund
National Priorities List sites in southwest Louisiana and southeast
Texas after Hurricane Rita struck this area.

13EPA Region 4 also compared the sample results from the Superfund sites
reviewed in Mississippi and Alabama with the EPA Office of Water 2004
National Recommended Water Quality Criteria and EPA Region 9 Preliminary
Remediation Goals to determine if those sites� conditions might also
represent previously unrecognized risks to human health and the
environment.

14EPA concluded from the assessment of the Agriculture Street Landfill
in New Orleans, 1 of the 24 Superfund sites reviewed, that the flooding
did not cause any lead (the contaminant of concern) to migrate up through
the site�s soil cover. However, sediment samples EPA collected on the
site and in the area contained benzo(a)pyrene levels that exceeded
Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality risk standards. EPA
reported on August 17, 2006, that it had contacted the Housing Authority
of New Orleans (the property owner and manager) regarding the sampling
results and planned to work with the authority to ensure plans for the
site addressed this contamination. Additionally, EPA stated it would
provide a closeout report when the authority announced its specific plans.

15The one exception EPA Region 4 identified involved the Naval
Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport, Mississippi. Although EPA
detected elevated dioxins at some of the sampling points near this
facility, the agency concluded that none of the concentrations detected
caused concern about effects on human health and that the site was not
adversely impacted by Katrina.

In addition, potential sources of air pollution that could occur as a
result of a hurricane include spills of volatile chemicals, releases or
leaks from industrial plants, dust from building demolition and debris
transport, contaminated sediments that can be resuspended as dust, and
smoke from open burning of debris. EPA began screening air quality in
Louisiana and Mississippi in coordination with state departments of
environmental quality on August 30, 2005, to provide initial air quality
assessments. EPA employed such equipment as the agency's (1) Airborne
Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology flying
laboratory, equipment mounted in a small aircraft that can obtain detailed
chemical information from a safe distance; and (2) Trace Atmospheric Gas
Analyzer mobile laboratories, which are self-contained units capable of
real-time sampling and analysis, to conduct air monitoring immediately
following Katrina. In addition, EPA worked with state partners to restore
damaged or lost air quality monitoring stations. EPA has performed air
sampling to test for contaminants such as lead, arsenic, asbestos fibers,
volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and other pollutants using
temporary ambient air monitoring stations in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Another key component of EPA's activities to assess the environmental
impacts of Katrina focused on helping both Louisiana and Mississippi
perform drinking water and wastewater infrastructure assessments. Many of
these facilities along the Gulf Coast were damaged and became inoperable.
EPA helped perform about 4,000 drinking water and wastewater
infrastructure assessments to help bring these facilities back online as
quickly as possible after the hurricane. Among other things, EPA provided
assistance to help assess the status of both states' public water systems;
helped collect and analyze drinking water samples, including providing
mobile labs to help with this effort; and provided information to the
public, such as flyers about drinking water quality. EPA's Office of
Emergency Management also noted in its September 2006 annual report that
EPA was working closely with FEMA and Louisiana and Mississippi state
officials to establish long-term recovery plans, with an emphasis on water
and wastewater infrastructure.

EPA also coordinated with various federal and state agencies to test
surface water bodies (such as rivers, lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico) and
floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Among other
efforts, EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the
Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Geological Survey coordinated
an environmental impact assessment of the coastal waters throughout the
affected region. By integrating response activities aboard two EPA and
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration survey and research
vessels, small boat teams were able to characterize the magnitude and
extent of the coastal contamination and ecological effects from these
hurricanes. These efforts, which were conducted between September 27 and
October 14, 2005, generally found that the water was safe for recreational
use, including swimming. EPA also coordinated with the Mississippi
Department of Environmental Quality to conduct a water quality study in
the rivers and bays along the Mississippi coast in September 2005. The
objective of this study was to provide sediment and
water quality data on the major bay systems along the Mississippi
Sound.^16 According to this study, few pollutants were identified.

The severe and sustained flooding of about 80 percent of New Orleans and
large areas of Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes from Hurricanes
Katrina and Rita prompted EPA and the Louisiana Department of
Environmental Quality to test the floodwaters and the resulting sediment
from the hurricanes. Because the flooded portions of the New Orleans area
were below sea level and had little natural drainage, there were grave
concerns about the environmental health risks as the floodwaters
commingled with contaminants such as oil and gas from ruptured lines and
storage tanks; sewage; and various chemicals leached from abandoned drums,
containers, and vehicles. The additional storm surge from Hurricane Rita,
which occurred about 1 month after Katrina, further exacerbated the
situation when it reflooded much of New Orleans and the surrounding
parishes. To determine the potential environmental effects of the
floodwaters, EPA and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality
collected nearly 400 water samples of the flooded areas and also
periodically collected samples from Lake Pontchartrain as the floodwaters
were being pumped from the flooded areas around New Orleans into the lake.
The samples from the floodwaters were tested for bacteria and about 200
chemicals. While numerous samples revealed elevated bacteria levels, EPA
and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality reported that this
was expected, given the commingling of floodwaters with sewage collection
system waters. Although a small number of samples contained concentrations
of chemicals that exceeded short-term (i.e., 90 days) standards for dermal
contact and incidental ingestion, the agencies concluded that there was
realistically no circumstance that would lead to continuous exposure to
the floodwaters beyond a few days.^17 Unlike Louisiana, areas in
Mississippi and Alabama hit by Katrina did not experience any sustained
flooding, although they did experience severe damage from the hurricane's
storm surge, high winds, and rainfall.

13EPA Region 4 also compared the sample results from the Superfund sites reviewed in
Mississippi and Alabama with the EPA Office of Water 2004 National Recommended Water
Quality Criteria and EPA Region 9 Preliminary Remediation Goals to determine if those
sites� conditions might also represent previously unrecognized risks to human health and
the environment.

14EPA concluded from the assessment of the Agriculture Street Landfill in New Orleans, 1 of
the 24 Superfund sites reviewed, that the flooding did not cause any lead (the contaminant
of concern) to migrate up through the site�s soil cover. However, sediment samples EPA
collected on the site and in the area contained benzo(a)pyrene levels that exceeded
Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality risk standards. EPA reported on August 17,
2006, that it had contacted the Housing Authority of New Orleans (the property owner and
manager) regarding the sampling results and planned to work with the authority to ensure
plans for the site addressed this contamination. Additionally, EPA stated it would provide a
closeout report when the authority announced its specific plans.
15The one exception EPA Region 4 identified involved the Naval Construction Battalion
Center in Gulfport, Mississippi. Although EPA detected elevated dioxins at some of the
sampling points near this facility, the agency concluded that none of the concentrations
detected caused concern about effects on human health and that the site was not adversely
impacted by Katrina.

Once the Army Corps of Engineers completed draining the floodwaters from
the New Orleans area on October 11, 2005, the environmental health risk to
area residents and emergency responders from the waters was eliminated.
However, renewed concerns arose over the potentially contaminated sediment
the floodwaters left behind. As the floodwaters in New Orleans and the
surrounding parishes receded, sediments ranging in depth from less than an
inch to several feet remained in some areas.^18 As would be expected,
sediment was more prevalent in those areas where the floodwaters flowed
over or breached levees, while in other areas, little or no sediment was
left behind.

EPA, in coordination with the Louisiana Department of Environmental
Quality and several other federal and state agencies, carried out sediment
testing in four phases, collecting up to 1,800 sediment and soil samples.
The samples were collected from streets and other public access areas,
including golf courses, in sections of New Orleans that had been flooded.
On the basis of these samples, EPA and the Louisiana Department of
Environmental Quality generally concluded, in conjunction with other
federal and state agencies, that the sediments left behind by the flooding
were not expected to cause adverse health effects to individuals returning
to New Orleans. Specifics regarding the four phases of the sediment
testing follow. Unless otherwise noted, the samples were (1) analyzed for
about 200 metals and organic chemicals, including lead, arsenic, gasoline,
diesel fuel, and oil, as well as for bacteria; and (2) evaluated using
Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality Risk Evaluation/Corrective
Action Program Screening Option Standards and EPA's risk criteria based on
long-term (30 years) residential exposure assumptions.^19

18For purposes of its hurricane response sampling effort, EPA defined sediment as �residuals
deposited by receding floodwaters which may include historical sediment from nearby
water bodies, soil from yards, road and construction debris, and other materials.�

19The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has developed a Risk
Evaluation/Corrective Action Program to address risks to human health and the
environment from the release of chemical constituents. The program consists of a screening
option and three management options. The screening option may be used to manage an area
of concern expeditiously, or determine if it warrants further investigation, while the threetiered
management options allow site evaluation and corrective action efforts to be tailored
to site conditions and risks.

oPhase 1 of the sediment sampling included about 450 samples as follows:
(1) 430 individual samples EPA collected from September 10 to October 14,
2005, in Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, and St. Bernard Parishes; (2) 23
samples collected by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality on
November 10, 2005;  ^20 and (3) 14 samples collected on November 19 and
20, 2005, by EPA and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality at
locations tested previously where contaminant concentrations exceeded the
Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and EPA risk criteria.^21

oPhase 2 of the sediment sampling included about 280 individual samples
collected in the Lower Ninth Ward (part of Orleans Parish) and St. Bernard
Parish from October 29 to November 27, 2005--areas that were severely
impacted by the flooding.

oPhase 3 of the sediment sampling focused primarily on 43 locations in
flood-impacted areas where elevated concentrations of arsenic, lead, or
benzo(a)pyrene had been found in phases 1 and 2.^22 To determine whether
the elevated levels of these contaminants were limited to the specific
location originally sampled or reflected more widespread contamination, up
to 10 composite samples were collected within a 500-foot radius of each of
the 43 locations from February 16 to February 22, 2006. The composite
samples combined four discrete sediment or soil samples, and most were
analyzed only for the individual contaminant that was elevated in the
original sediment sample.

oPhase 4 sediment sampling included 586 samples collected in Orleans and
St. Bernard Parishes from February 6 to June 30, 2006.^23 These samples
were analyzed for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, pesticides,
herbicides, diesel and oil range organic chemicals, and metals. In this
phase, potential sampling sites were selected using a grid of the "eastern
half of the flooded area." EPA identified 1,676 potential sampling sites
on the grid. EPA did not collect samples from a majority of these sites
(1,090) because (1) the sampling site was in a commercial area, (2) the
sediment was less than 0.5 centimeters thick (less than one-quarter of an
inch), or (3) no sediment was present.

20These 23 samples were analyzed for arsenic, lead, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, and
total petroleum hydrocarbons.

21The agencies resampled at 14 of the 145 locations at which the initial sampling exceeded
the risk criteria based on their resampling criteria: the sediment depth had to exceed 1.5
centimeters (a little more than one-half inch).

22To address public concerns, phase 3 also included samples in public access areas of a
neighborhood near a former pesticide blending facility that had not been included in phases
1 and 2. These composite samples were analyzed for a complete spectrum of pesticides.
23Duplicate samples were collected at 126 of the locations, resulting in the analysis of 712
samples.

EPA's response activities have included providing a substantial amount of
information to the public on the environmental health risks from Katrina,
including three environmental assessment summaries that focused primarily
on the results of these sediment samples taken in New Orleans. The first
summary also conveyed the results of air and water sampling in the New
Orleans area. Beginning shortly after Hurricane Katrina, in September
2005, EPA started to provide other information to the public on
environmental health risks and actions to mitigate exposures via flyers,
health advisories, and public service announcements that were distributed
at various locations throughout the hurricane-damaged areas, made
available to the media, and posted on EPA's Web page. For example, EPA
reported that it distributed over 3.8 million flyers on various topics,
such as hazardous waste collection, mold problems, and potential
environmental health hazards.

Overall, EPA's response activities varied in Louisiana and Mississippi
based, in part, on the environmental impacts and needs of the affected
parishes and counties. While EPA's response is complete in Mississippi,
EPA Region 6 continues to assist the state of Louisiana with its recovery
efforts and currently plans to continue to do so until at least September
2007. State and local government decisions continue to affect the length
of time EPA will need to maintain a presence in Louisiana parishes. For
example, local government decisions about home condemnation and demolition
processes will affect the length of time EPA needs to continue its debris
management and air monitoring activities in the New Orleans area.

EPA's Air Monitoring for Releases of Asbestos Fibers in New Orleans Does
Not Adequately Address Neighborhoods with Substantial Building Demolition
and Renovation Activities

EPA's Clean Air Act asbestos regulation seeks to minimize the significant
human health risks--including lung disease and cancer--associated with
inhalation of asbestos fibers from building demolition and other
activities. To facilitate and expedite demolition and rebuilding following
Hurricane Katrina, EPA stated that it would not enforce certain
requirements under the asbestos regulation, at the request of the
Louisiana and Mississippi Departments of Environmental Quality. In
addition, many demolition and renovation activities--those by individual
homeowners--are generally unregulated under EPA's asbestos regulation. EPA
took steps to measure asbestos emissions after Hurricane Katrina--for
example, initially more than doubling from 5 to 12 the ambient (outdoor)
air monitors in the area prior to the storms.^24 However, air monitors
generally have not been located in areas in which much of the building
demolition and renovation is occurring.

24According to EPA, the monitors can measure ambient concentrations of the following
potential pollutants and categories of pollutants from local and regional sources: arsenic,
asbestos, lead, particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon chemicals, and volatile
organic compounds.

EPA's Clean Air Act Asbestos Regulation Covering Building Demolition
Activities Seeks to Minimize the Significant Human Health Risks Associated
with Exposure to Asbestos Fibers in the Air

The Clean Air Act of 1970, as amended, requires EPA to develop and enforce
regulations to protect the general public from exposure to hazardous air
pollutants--also called air toxics--that are known to be hazardous to
human health. Asbestos is an air toxic consisting of naturally occurring
fibrous minerals with high tensile strength, the ability to be woven, and
resistance to heat and most chemicals. Because of these properties,
asbestos fibers have been used in a wide range of manufactured goods,
including roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper and cement
products, and textiles. Exposure to asbestos can be harmful to human
health if asbestos fibers are released into the air, such as when asbestos
is disturbed or in poor condition and these fibers are inhaled into the
lungs. Such releases of asbestos fibers can occur during building
renovations and demolitions. Asbestos was among the first air toxics EPA
regulated. EPA has promulgated regulations governing the renovation and
demolition of buildings with asbestos-containing materials to protect the
public from the risks associated with exposure to asbestos fibers.^25

25See National Emissions Standard for Asbestos, 40 CFR Part 61, Subpart M.

Some significant health effects associated with asbestos exposure--such as
asbestosis and lung cancer--have been recognized for many years.
Asbestosis is a serious, progressive, long-term disease caused by inhaling
asbestos fibers that produces scarring and inflammation of the lung
tissue, thereby making it harder for the lungs to get oxygen into the
blood. Lung cancer causes the largest number of deaths related to asbestos
exposure. Individuals working in occupations involving the mining,
milling, manufacturing, and use of asbestos and its products, including
construction and demolition workers, are more likely to get lung cancer
than the general population.

Diseases linked to asbestos exposure take a long time to develop.
Specifically, most cases of lung cancer or asbestosis in asbestos workers
occur 15 years or more after initial exposure to asbestos, and cases of
mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the lungs) are commonly diagnosed 30
years or more after exposure. Cases of mesothelioma have been reported in
family members of asbestos workers after exposure to these workers at home
and in individuals without occupational exposure who live close to
asbestos mines.^26

According to EPA, scientists have not been able to identify a safe, or
threshold, level for exposure to airborne asbestos. Rather than regulating
this air toxic by setting emission standards for emission sources, as is
typically done to mitigate health risks, EPA's national emissions
standards for asbestos regulate various potential sources of asbestos
emissions, including renovation and demolition activities, by setting
standards for work practices.^27 EPA has granted some states, including
Louisiana and Mississippi, approval to implement and enforce the asbestos
standards. However, EPA retains the authority to enforce its requirements;
to oversee states' implementation of the air toxics program in general;
and to withdraw the delegation of the program if a state does not, for
example, adequately enforce the program. Under EPA's regulations of
demolitions involving asbestos, the owner or operator of the demolition
activity generally must

oinspect buildings for asbestos where demolition or substantial renovation
activity will occur;

oprovide written notice to EPA or the state of intention to renovate or
demolish buildings that have asbestos-containing material;

oremove all regulated asbestos-containing material before any activity
begins that would break up, dislodge, or disturb the material;^28

owet all regulated asbestos-containing material exposed during cutting or
disjoining operations and stripping operations so that no emissions are
visible during the demolition;

otake steps to contain asbestos-containing material in preparation for
disposal, such as wetting the material or encasing it in leak-tight
wrapping; and

oundertake the removal of asbestos-containing material in the presence of
an on-site representative who has been trained to comply with the
provisions of the asbestos standard.

26Related information on the adverse health effects due to asbestos can be found via the
Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry Web page at http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/asbestos/asbestos/health_effects.

27The Clean Air Act provides EPA with the authority to promulgate a work practice standard
to mitigate health risks if it is not feasible to establish an emission standard. 42 U.S.C. �
7412(h). In its 1978 rule amending EPA�s asbestos standard, the agency said that it was not
feasible to prescribe a numerical emission standard for building demolitions or renovations.
See 40 C.F.R. � 61.145(c), Procedures for asbestos emissions control.

However, if a building is to be demolished by government order because it
is structurally unsound and in danger of imminent collapse, it is not
required to be inspected for asbestos, and the regulated
asbestos-containing materials are not required to be identified and
removed first. Nevertheless, specified notification requirements and
emission control requirements--primarily the wetting of
asbestos-containing materials to limit releases of asbestos fibers--still
apply to the demolition operation.^29 Importantly, these standards
generally do not apply to the demolition or renovation of a residential
building by or for an individual homeowner.  ^30

28Regulated asbestos containing material (RACM) means (a) Friable asbestos material, (b)
Category I nonfriable ACM that has become friable, (c) Category I nonfriable ACM that will
be or has been subjected to sanding, grinding, cutting, or abrading, or (d) Category II
nonfriable ACM that has a high probability of becoming or has become crumbled,
pulverized, or reduced to powder by the forces expected to act on the material in the course
of demolition or renovation operations regulated by the asbestos work practice standards.
Category I nonfriable asbestos-containing material (ACM) means asbestos-containing
packings, gaskets, resilient floor covering, and asphalt roofing products containing more
than 1 percent asbestos as determined using the method specified in appendix E, subpart E,
40 C.F.R. part 763, section 1, Polarized Light Microscopy. Category II nonfriable ACM means
any material, excluding Category I nonfriable ACM, containing more than 1 percent asbestos
as determined using the methods specified in appendix E, subpart E, 40 C.F.R. part 763,
section 1, Polarized Light Microscopy that, when dry, cannot be crumbled, pulverized, or
reduced to powder by hand pressure.

Many of the flooded homes in New Orleans that will be demolished or
substantially renovated are likely to contain asbestos-containing
materials, such as roof shingles, siding, flooring, and ceilings. For
example, analysis by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality
shows that the majority of land tracts in the New Orleans area contain
homes built before 1980, when use of asbestos products was prevalent. As
of January 2007, about 25,000 homes had been identified as awaiting
demolition--98 percent of which are concentrated in the Orleans and St.
Bernard Parishes.^31 According to the Louisiana Department of
Environmental Quality, another 80,000 homes that were flooded in the New
Orleans area are not yet included in the demolition estimates, but many of
them will likely be demolished. Those that are not demolished will very
likely have to be substantially renovated.

EPA Has Issued "No Action Assurances" for Certain Clean Air Act Asbestos
Requirements Governing the Demolition of Buildings to Help Expedite the
Gulf Coast Cleanup

On rare occasions, EPA issues "no action assurance" letters stating that
it will not enforce certain legal requirements. EPA recognizes that such
assurances could erode the credibility of the agency's enforcement program
by creating real or perceived inequities in the agency's treatment of the
regulated community. Consequently, under EPA policy guidance, such
assurances are to be used only in extremely unusual cases when clearly
necessary to serve the public interest--such as to avoid extreme risks to
public health or safety or to obtain important information for research
purposes--when no other mechanism can adequately address the problem
presented.

2940 C.F.R. � 61.145(a)(3); see EPA Office of Compliance, Managing Your Environmental
Responsibilities: A Planning Guide for Construction and Development, at VII-15 (April
2005).

30Demolition or renovation by the individual homeowner of a residential building with four
or fewer dwelling units is not covered by EPA�s asbestos national emissions standards,
unless the demolition is part of a larger overall project carried out by one owner or operator.

31Summary of homes remaining for demolition. Information compiled from the January 6,
2007, weekly status report from the Department of Homeland Security.

To facilitate and expedite demolition and rebuilding following Hurricane
Katrina, Louisiana and Mississippi requested that EPA issue no action
assurance letters concerning some provisions of the national emissions
standard for asbestos. In light of the extraordinary demolition, cleanup,
and debris disposal required on the Gulf Coast, EPA issued several no
action assurance letters to Louisiana and Mississippi. Under letters
issued in February 2006, residences that are subject to a
government-issued demolition order based on the residence being (1)
structurally unsound but not necessarily in danger of imminent collapse,
(2) moved off of its foundation, or (3) uninhabitable for other
environmental reasons, such as flooding, are effectively not subject to
otherwise applicable requirements for inspection and removal of asbestos
prior to demolition. Such structures must nonetheless be demolished,
transported, and disposed of in accordance with specified requirements
aimed at ensuring adequate protection of any asbestos the buildings may
contain. These requirements include notification, thorough wetting of the
building both prior to and during the demolition process, and proper
disposal of all of the debris as if it contained asbestos.^32 EPA's 2006
no action assurance letters also allowed government-issued demolition
orders to be expanded to groups of residences instead of only individual
residences because it may not be practical for state or local officials to
make an individual determination for every residential structure. The no
action assurances apply to the Louisiana and Mississippi Departments of
Environmental Quality, to local governments, and to the Army Corps of
Engineers, as well as to any persons operating at the direction of these
government entities.

The Army Corps of Engineers is the prime contractor for many of the
demolitions covered by the no action assurances, including all of them in
Orleans Parish. Some parishes--most notably St. Bernard Parish--use other
contractors or a mix of the Corps and other contractors. According to data
from FEMA, of the vast majority of the remaining 25,000 demolitions
estimated as of January 2007, approximately half are in Orleans Parish and
half in St. Bernard. Regarding demolitions conducted by the Corps and its
contractors, the Corps said that approximately 85 percent of the 2,600
demolitions conducted in Orleans Parish, which includes the Ninth Ward,
were classified as containing regulated asbestos-containing materials,
primarily because inspections could not be performed inside properties.^33
The Corps also said that in other parishes, between 10 percent and 40
percent of the structures it had demolished were classified as containing
regulated asbestos-containing materials on the basis of inspections.

32EPA also issued an April 28, 2006, no action assurance letter to the Louisiana Department
of Environmental Quality allowing a staging process for debris from approximately 70
residential structures to be used in debris grinding and burning pilot studies in Louisiana
until July 31, 2006. However, FEMA did not approve funding for these pilot studies for
several reasons.

Initially, the no action assurance letters were in effect for 1 year--that
is, until February 2007. Officials from Louisiana told us that while EPA's
no action assurances were helpful in allowing demolitions to proceed at a
faster pace, a number of other issues, such as landfill capacity and the
building condemnation process, have contributed to demolition delays. As a
result, on December 21, 2006, the Louisiana Department of Environmental
Quality requested an extension of the no action assurances until February
2008 because many demolitions have yet to be conducted. Citing information
from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Louisiana Department of
Environmental Quality told EPA that, as of December 2006, 10,000
residences had been demolished, but more than 25,000 demolitions are
likely to be needed.^34 In supplemental information supporting the
extension request, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality
provided EPA with repopulation estimates on the basis of estimates by The
Brookings Institution's December 2006 report, Katrina Index: Tracking
Variables of Post-Katrina Recovery. For the Orleans and St. Bernard
Parishes, 41 percent and 39 percent, respectively, of the residents were
estimated to have returned as of August 2006, compared with Census 2000
population estimates.^35 The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality
also cited a plan for the recovery of the Ninth Ward that stated about 20
percent of the residents of the Ninth Ward had returned.^36 This plan also
stated that homeowners have gutted 30 percent of the houses in this ward
and that owners have repaired or are in the process of repairing another
30 percent of the housing. A March 2007 update to the Katrina Index, which
did not update the August 2006 repopulation estimates, stated that
thousands of college students and families on spring break are coming to
the Gulf Coast to help with rebuilding; it also reported that the New
Orleans metropolitan area gained more than 50,000 workers from November
2006 to January 2007.

33According to the Army Corps of Engineers, residences it had demolished were inspected
for asbestos prior to demolition except when it was not safe to enter a structure, the
structure had transite shingles or siding (which the Corps classifies as regulated asbestoscontaining
materials), or the structure was completely demolished.

34In February 2007, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality stated that 12,000
residences had been demolished and estimated 30,000 more home demolitions were needed.

35The margin of error for the estimates was plus or minus 9.8 percent for Orleans Parish and
plus or minus 14.4 percent for St. Bernard Parish.

36A Peoples� Plan for Overcoming the Hurricane Katrina Blues (draft study prepared by
ACORN Housing/University Partnership, Feb. 1, 2007).

On February 2, 2007, EPA approved an extension of the no action assurances
through September 30, 2007, for the 11 parishes covered under Louisiana
Emergency Declarations and Administrative Orders. EPA also approved an
extension of the no action assurance it provided the Mississippi
Department of Environmental Quality through September 30, 2007, for four
counties in Mississippi. In its no action assurance letters to Louisiana
and Mississippi, EPA stated that it reserved the right to revoke or modify
the assurances if it determined that doing so was necessary to protect
public health or the environment. Moreover, we believe that the potential
public health effect of demolition and renovation activities by individual
homeowners--which are generally not regulated under EPA's asbestos work
practice standards--also warrants evaluation.

Current Asbestos Monitoring Is Not Sufficient to Assess the Potential
Public Health and Environmental Impacts of Demolition and Renovation
Activities

Many homes in the New Orleans area contain hazardous materials such as
asbestos that could be released during demolition and renovation
activities, posing health hazards for individuals exposed to asbestos
fibers. The bulk of these demolition and renovation activities have yet to
occur. For example, in December 2006, the Army Corps of Engineers said it
had completed about 2,000 of the 6,000 to 12,000 residential demolitions
it expected to perform in the Orleans Parish.^37 In addition to these
demolitions covered by the no action assurances, the demolition and
renovation activities by individual homeowners that are outside the scope
of EPA's asbestos national emissions standards will likely be substantial.
For example, in December 2006, the Corps stated that the demolition effort
by individual homeowners was approximately equal to the public demolition
effort. Further, because of mold problems caused by the extensive
flooding, many residences that do not require demolition must nonetheless
be gutted--stripping the walls down to the studs--before they can be
renovated. Numerous volunteer organizations continue to help individual
owners by gutting the homes. For example, the Corps reported that, as of
October 2006, 6,500 homes were on a list for gutting services to be
provided by volunteers from various nonprofit organizations. According to
EPA, whether demolitions by volunteer groups would be subject to the
asbestos work practice standards depends upon the number and location of
sites and who is supervising the demolition. That thousands of demolitions
and substantial renovations may occur in the same geographic area and in
the same general time frame without being subject to the asbestos work
practice standards represents a potential health problem--especially since
the protective requirement to wet any asbestos-containing materials does
not apply to unregulated demolitions and disposal.

37According to the Corps, the number of residence demolitions continues to be speculative
and is dependent on the city of New Orleans finalizing condemnation packages.

To be responsive to potential public questions and concerns, EPA took
steps to measure asbestos emissions after Hurricane Katrina--initially
more than doubling from 5 to 12 the number of the ambient (outdoor) air
monitors in the New Orleans area prior to the storm. EPA officials said
the agency's monitoring network was designed to include measuring the
effects from both the regulated asbestos-containing material to which no
action assurance letters might apply and activities not regulated, which
would include demolition or renovation activities by or for individual
homeowners.^38 In July 2006, the agency scaled back ambient air monitoring
to its prestorm level of five ambient air quality monitors and also
reduced the frequency of sampling to several times a month.^39 EPA said
the decision to reduce the monitoring sites was based in part on the fact
that no measurable amounts of asbestos fibers were found for the period of
time that a 12-monitor network had been in place.^40 However, because the
demolition activities in the New Orleans area generally did not start
until 7 or more months after Hurricane Katrina, EPA's cutback in asbestos
air monitoring occurred before (1) most of the demolitions that are now
completed had taken place and (2) the substantial number of remaining
demolitions had begun.^41

38EPA is using a 1-year screening level of 0.01 fibers of the length greater than 5 �m found
per cubic centimeter of air. According to EPA, this screening level was developed with
consideration of the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act regulations and EPA�s
asbestos risk estimates.

39One monitor is in St. Tammany Parish, north of Lake Ponchartrain and Orleans Parish; one
is in Metairie, west of Orleans; one is in St. Bernard Parish (Arabi); and two are in Orleans
Parish�in the north at the University of New Orleans and in the east at a fire training
academy near some landfill operations.

40According to air sampling information on EPA�s Web page, measurements of asbestos were
below the method detection limit, a value below the minimum detectable by the method
used. According to EPA, the reduction in air monitors was also a response to the delays in
the demolition activities.

41The Army Corps of Engineers demolished the first storm-damaged homes in Orleans
Parish in March 2006, and demolition activities started in St. Bernard Parish in April 2006.
According to Corps data reported in the December 2006 Brookings Institution Katrina
Index cited above, the Corps had completed 195 demolitions in Orleans Parish as of July
2006 and 2,289 as of December 2006.

While officials from EPA's Office of Research and Development said the use
of air monitors would not be effective in detecting asbestos emissions
from home demolitions and renovations unless monitors were located
immediately adjacent to demolition and renovation sites, monitors
generally have not been located in areas in which much of the building
demolition and renovation is occurring. For example, since Hurricane
Katrina, EPA has not located ambient or emissions monitors in the Ninth
Ward, a residential area subjected to widespread flooding in which
extensive demolition and renovation are occurring. Specifically, the
closest monitor is in Arabi, a city south of the Ninth Ward. EPA's air
monitoring focus has not included proximity to demolition sites. EPA
officials said the locations for the monitors, initially selected in
October 2005, were chosen based on proximity to public access (e.g., near
populated areas), wind and geographical factors, and locations of
waste-moving activities.

In January 2007, EPA said that its air monitoring currently focuses on
more limited geographic areas where "grinding and other remediation
activities are ongoing"--for example, at debris volume reduction sites,
which are often landfills. This monitoring does not rely solely on the
five ambient air monitors around New Orleans but instead includes some
monitoring at sites involving waste handling, burning, or grinding
activities. According to EPA, conducting air monitoring at debris
reduction sites is more conservative than at demolition sites since volume
reduction activities such as grinding or burning have the potential to
release more asbestos fibers as the material is destroyed. While this
focus on debris and landfills is important, so, too, is monitoring data
from areas undergoing concentrated levels of demolition and renovation.

Along these lines, according to EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers and its
contractors who are conducting demolitions under government orders have
monitored the air at demolition sites for asbestos emissions, and the
Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has told EPA that this
monitoring has found "little or no asbestos emissions." For example, in
November 2006, one Corps contractor reported on air sampling conducted at
demolition sites where samples were primarily taken from the site
perimeters (using personal sampling pumps) and from employees wearing
personal monitoring equipment required by the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration (OSHA).^42 Most of the sampling was conducted at
sites that the Corps classified as containing regulated asbestos
materials, and the contractor concluded that exposures to asbestos were
minimal and respiratory protection was needed only as a precautionary
measure.

Such air monitoring data from the Corps and its contractors do not,
however, address potential asbestos emissions from the privately sponsored
demolitions and renovations by individual homeowners. Since these
activities are not regulated--and emissions control actions such as
wetting the material from before the demolition process through disposal
are not required--the potential for asbestos emissions at these sites is
greater than at the regulated sites. Because EPA's air monitors have not
been deployed in and around neighborhoods where demolition and renovation
activities--both publicly and privately sponsored--are concentrated, the
agency's finding of no measurable amounts of asbestos at its ambient
monitoring sites does not necessarily address the asbestos to which
residents, workers, and volunteers may be exposed in some neighborhoods.

This monitoring gap exists even though immediately after Hurricane
Katrina, EPA recognized the potential health and environmental issues that
could arise in New Orleans from asbestos emissions at both demolition and
disposal sites. Specifically, EPA's September 2005 Overview Plan for
Ambient Air Monitoring After Hurricane Katrina--which addresses air
monitoring in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama--discusses asbestos
monitoring tentatively planned at a number of fixed sites and states that
additional monitoring requirements to more specifically address both
asbestos demolition and disposal operations may be established. The
October 2005 Regional Air Monitoring Plan for Hurricane Katrina in
Louisiana, developed by EPA Region 6, mentions air monitoring for
potential emissions during decontamination, demolition, removal, and
remedial action in impacted areas, but it does not establish additional
monitoring requirements for asbestos demolition or disposal operations.
This plan also notes that a site-specific air sampling plan will be
established to assess air pollutants resulting from debris burns and
building demolition. In this regard, EPA Region 6 issued its Air
Monitoring and Sampling Plan for Construction and Demolition Debris
Burning or Grinding Sites in February 2006.^43 This plan addresses the
asbestos sampling methodology to be used around activity areas such as
debris piles or landfills. While this plan notes that numerous properties
are expected to contain hazardous materials such as asbestos that could
result in inhalation exposure, posing health hazards for individuals in
the vicinity, it does not include any requirements for monitoring asbestos
emissions at building renovation or demolition sites.

42While the report includes some samples covering other activities, such as canal cleaning
and debris removal, 93 percent of the samples identified in the report were collected at
demolition sites.

In contrast, EPA's conditions for granting the first Hurricane
Katrina-related asbestos no action assurance to Louisiana in October
2005--which Louisiana chose not to use and which expired in April
2006--included a requirement that the Louisiana Department of
Environmental Quality ensure that adequate monitoring was conducted prior
to and during demolition of residences.^44 EPA's conditions, which were
reviewed by EPA's Science Advisory Board, specifically directed Louisiana
to develop a plan for monitoring that provides information sufficient to
ensure adequate protection of public health and the environment and to
have the plan approved by EPA Region 6. EPA further directed that the plan
must, at a minimum, include representative asbestos monitoring at
demolition sites.

Along these lines, an EPA pilot study conducted in 2006 in Fort Smith,
Arkansas, demonstrates that air monitoring close to the source of asbestos
emissions is important to detect releases of asbestos fibers. The pilot
was designed to test the effectiveness of an alternative asbestos control
method for building demolitions using monitoring information from the
demolition
site and the landfill.^45 Specifically, the quality assurance project plan
for the pilot--which had been subject to independent peer review--called
for, among other things, perimeter asbestos monitoring during demolition
as well as at landfill sites.^46 The quality assurance project plan also
specified that an air monitoring network consisting of two concentric
rings of monitors would be placed at intervals around each of the two
buildings being demolished. According to EPA officials, it is preferable
to have emissions monitors stationed as close to a potential source of
asbestos emissions as possible because the risk of exposure decreases by
orders of magnitude the farther away one is from the emissions source. For
this reason, EPA's pilot was intentionally located in Arkansas in a
"remote, secure location to ensure no public exposure," with the nearest
residence approximately 2 miles from the demolition site. The plan also
called for asbestos monitoring in the soil at the demolition site, in dust
that settled on surfaces near the demolition site, and in collected runoff
water from wetting the building and debris during demolition and debris
loading. EPA officials said that any monitoring of asbestos emissions at
demolition sites in New Orleans would not need to be as elaborate as that
done for the pilot, which was conducted to develop data for potential use
in a revision to EPA's asbestos regulation. However, they noted that using
the second concentric ring of monitors in the pilot allowed EPA's Office
of Research and Development to compare air monitor results between the
outer perimeter ring and the inner ring and project emissions levels
outward with increased accuracy.

43Region 4 officials told us they did not develop additional air monitoring plans for
Mississippi because they determined that the overview plan developed for both states was
adequate.

44The initial no action assurance letter largely focused on disposition of the construction and
demolition debris using an open burning technology. Louisiana Department of
Environmental Quality officials said the state chose to not conduct the test burn required
under the terms of the letter or exercise the flexibility EPA authorized in the letter because
of the conditions for the test burn and the time it would take to reach agreement with EPA
on a test protocol.

45The methods used in the pilot had more stringent requirements before and during
demolition than EPA is requiring under the current asbestos no action assurances in
Louisiana and Mississippi.

46Environmental Quality Management and EPA, Quality Assurance Project Plan:
Evaluation of an Alternative Asbestos Control Method for Building Demolition (Mar. 31,
2006).

Some Shortcomings in EPA's Communications on Environmental Health Risks
Have Limited the Communications' Usefulness to the Public

EPA's key communications about the potential health risks from exposure to
environmental contamination in New Orleans--three environmental assessment
summaries prepared with, among others, the Louisiana Department of
Environmental Quality--did not sufficiently disclose some information that
would have helped residents better understand the potential health risks
of returning home and how to mitigate them. In addition, some of EPA's
other communications, including flyers and public service announcements,
provided unclear and inconsistent information on mitigating exposure to
some contaminants many returning residents would likely be exposed to in
their homes.

EPA's Insufficient Disclosure about Its Decisions Regarding Sampling of
Contaminants Limited Residents' Understanding of the Potential Health
Risks of Returning Home

Following disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, an immediate and primary
concern of evacuees is whether and when it is safe to return to their
homes. Accurate and timely information on many factors is important for
residents to make this assessment--and to determine what they should bring
with them when they do return, including items to mitigate potential
health risks. One important factor residents need information on is the
environmental contamination to which they may be exposed when they return
home. Such contamination was a particular concern in New Orleans, a
densely populated, older urban area in proximity to petroleum and chemical
industry sites, as well as a number of Superfund sites, from which
contaminants may have migrated into residential areas.

EPA worked with other federal and state agencies to support local
officials evaluating home and neighborhood safety. In addition, as
discussed earlier, EPA provided a substantial amount of information to the
public on environmental health risks using reports (environmental
assessment summaries), flyers, public service announcements made available
to the media, and EPA's Web page. However, EPA's communications about the
potential health risks from environmental contamination in New
Orleans--three environmental assessment summaries prepared with, among
others, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality^47--were
released about 3, 6, and 11 months after Hurricane Katrina, limiting their
usefulness to residents who would have benefited from more timely
information about the environmental health risks they could face when
returning home. These environmental assessment summaries convey some
helpful information about the floodwaters, sediments, and air quality in
the New Orleans area after the hurricanes--that is, about the potential
health risks of being outdoors in the New Orleans area.

47In addition, EPA worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Agency
for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the Louisiana Department of Health and
Hospitals, and FEMA.

However, because some sampling decisions that EPA made were not
sufficiently disclosed, residents could have been given the wrong
impression about the potential health risks they could face in returning
to their homes. For example, the first environmental assessment summary,
released in December 2005, states that "the great majority of the data
available show that adverse health effects would not be expected from
exposure to the sediments from previously flooded areas provided people
used common sense and good personal hygiene and safety practices."
However, 8 months later in its third and final assessment summary,
released in August 2006, EPA said that the December 2005 summary indicated
no immediate health risk to residents returning for a quick assessment of
damage to their homes. The August 2006 summary said that the focus of the
analyses of sediments reported on in December 2005 was to assess "(1)
whether hazardous substances were present in the sediment in residential
areas and (2) the potential health effects to emergency workers and
residents from short-term exposure to any hazardous substances found in
the sediment." Because the December 2005 summary did not include this
qualification, residents could have misinterpreted it and assumed it was
generally safe to return to their homes.

EPA also insufficiently disclosed an important decision it had made about
sampling in New Orleans. That is, all sediment samples analyzed were taken
outdoors, from streets and other areas of public access in previously
flooded residential areas, and samples were not collected from private
property, such as residents' yards or inside residences. Regarding
disclosure of this sampling decision, EPA states in its first assessment
summary that all of its sampling was conducted "outdoors." While the
subsequent assessment summaries issued in March 2006 and August 2006
provide overviews of the previous assessment summaries, they do not
disclose that the assessments did not include sediment samples taken
inside buildings or on private property. For example, the March 2006
summary states only that the December 2005 assessment summary was based on
the results of "samples from floodwaters and sediments analyzed throughout
the flood-impacted areas."

However, according to EPA officials, in its assessments, the agency
assumes that results from sediment samples collected from streets or other
public access areas in residential neighborhoods can be used to
characterize the degree and nature of contamination in New Orleans,
including inside homes and in yards. We believe this assumption is
important and warrants highlighting in the EPA environmental assessment
summaries for two main reasons. First, environmental contamination levels
inside buildings can potentially be significantly higher than and
different from the contamination levels outside for a variety of reasons,
potentially causing more adverse health effects. For example, contaminants
that could have been washed into a building during the flooding--such as
petroleum-based products and arsenic--are not dispersed into the
atmosphere over time if confined indoors. Moreover, any toxic chemicals or
other contaminants already in a building at the time of the flooding--such
as pesticides, asbestos, and lead-based paint--may be released inside the
building. Finally, after flooding, mold frequently forms and spreads. For
example, in the case of the Gulf Coast 2005 hurricanes, the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that the duration and
extent of the flooding and the number of structures flooded made massive
mold contamination a certainty.^48 Along these lines, the Natural
Resources Defense Council conducted tests in several mold-contaminated
homes in New Orleans and found that mold in one home was at concentrations
that would render the building "dangerously uninhabitable"; in three other
homes, mold spore concentrations were "dangerously high." In addition to
causing respiratory discomfort, mold also can cause major allergic
reactions, asthma attacks, and a pneumonia-like illness (pneumonitis) that
causes breathing difficulty and fever. Second, to understand the level of
assurance that EPA can provide about the extent to which localized areas
of contamination may exist throughout the city, it is important to
understand that limiting sediment and soil sampling to outdoor, public
access areas can be problematic in that, for example, sediments in streets
may be subject to more dispersion than those that settled in more
protected areas, such as close to residences.

Further, regarding indoor sampling, in September 2005, EPA's Science
Advisory Board had suggested that EPA consider some indoor sampling in New
Orleans, including sampling of surface films on walls and structures,
because material deposited outdoors may have been different from material
indoors, where the potential for human exposure is likely to be greater.
At that time, EPA said that indoor testing of private homes could not be
conducted in the initial sampling effort because of worker safety issues
and difficult logistical issues--such as obtaining owners' consent--that
could not be quickly resolved. EPA stated the agency would revisit this
recommendation as these issues were addressed. To date, while CDC has
tested some New Orleans homes for mold contamination, EPA has not tested
for contamination inside homes that were flooded as a result of the
hurricanes. EPA officials told us the agency has not tested indoors
because state and local governments did not request this assistance and
because EPA determined that indoor testing was not necessary to
characterize the environmental contamination resulting from the storm.

48Generally, CDC has said that any structure flooded after hurricanes or major floods should
be presumed to contain materials contaminated with mold if those materials were not
thoroughly dried within 48 hours.

During the time EPA was conducting the sediment sampling program, the
agency posted test results on its Web page as the results became
available, identifying the general area of the sampling sites on a map of
the New Orleans area. Thus, any residents with access to the Internet and
with experience in searching and reviewing government Web sites could
obtain some information about the environmental contamination in New
Orleans prior to the release of the assessment summaries. However, the
information about the individual samples on EPA's Web page is highly
technical and would be of limited value to individuals who are not experts
in health risk assessment. For example, the Web page provides information
on the micrograms per kilogram (ug/kg) of arsenic and benzo(a)pyrene in
the sediment at one sampling site. Accompanying text indicates whether the
detected levels were above or below the "LDEQ RECAP value" and states that
in cases where they exceeded the RECAP value, "the levels fall within
EPA's risk range of 1 in 1,000,000 to 1 in 10,000 risk of an individual
developing cancer over a lifetime from exposure to those concentrations in
residential soils." Although we believe that posting data on the
individual samples on EPA's Web site was not a particularly effective tool
for communicating information to residents about potential health risks
and mitigation strategies, we agree with EPA's Inspector General that
EPA's posting of information on sediment contamination on its Web page
provided timely information to the states and other federal decision
makers for use in determining associated risk and impact assessment.^49

49EPA Office of Inspector General, EPA Provided Quality and Timely Information on
Hurricane Katrina Hazardous Material Releases and Debris Management, Report No.
2006-P-00023 (Washington, D.C., May 2, 2006).

Some Information EPA Provided to Residents in Its Public Service
Communications Was Unclear and Inconsistent

Although EPA did not perform environmental assessments of any flooded
homes in New Orleans, it did provide information to residents based on
general knowledge and assumptions about potential environmental health
risks inside buildings following disasters. Specifically, EPA relied on
flyers, public service announcements, and EPA's Web site to provide
information on the potential health risks in buildings stemming from
exposure to, for example, asbestos, lead, and mold--three contaminants
that were of concern to EPA and other officials immediately after the
hurricanes. While the flyers, public service announcements, and documents
on EPA's hurricane Web page provide information on mitigating exposure to
these contaminants, some information lacks clarity and consistency on
certain key points.^50 For example, EPA's most widely distributed flyer on
environmental health risks--EPA and Louisiana Department of Environmental
Quality Warn of Potential Environmental Health Hazards When Returning to
Homes and Businesses^51--states that buildings constructed before 1970 are
likely to contain asbestos, including pipe and other insulation, ceiling
tiles, exterior siding, and roof shingles. In contrast, another document
available on EPA's hurricane Web page, Dealing with Debris and Damaged
Buildings, states that all structures built before 1975 may contain
significant amounts of asbestos, and structures built after 1975 may also
contain asbestos. Further, in developing estimates of the number of homes
that may contain asbestos, the Louisiana Department of Environmental
Quality included homes built before 1980 as those likely to contain
asbestos.^52 Accurate and consistent information about the age of
buildings that are most likely to contain asbestos is important in helping
residents understand what protections they may need when entering and
working in their homes.

In addition, EPA's flyer on potential environmental health hazards
recommends seeking assistance from public health authorities and specially
trained contractors, if possible, when a resident knows or suspects that
asbestos or lead-based paint may be in the home and these materials have
been damaged or will be disturbed during cleanup. However, the flyer does
not contain the following more strongly worded guidance from the Frequent
Questions document on EPA's hurricane Web page: "Before you begin your
cleanup, seek help from public health authorities and specially trained
contractors. Although conditions following a hurricane may make it
difficult to obtain such assistance, EPA strongly advises against
individuals attempting to handle such materials themselves."

50EPA�s hurricane Web page, �Response to 2005 Hurricanes,� is still accessible on EPA�s Web
site using a search function, but it is no longer highlighted on EPA�s home page.

51In August 2006, EPA reported that more than 1.3 million of these flyers had been
distributed, as had about 900,000 flyers on mold problems.

52This date is consistent with other sources we reviewed that indicate that any building
constructed before 1980 can be presumed to contain asbestos. See �Asbestos: A Legal
Primer for Air Force Installation Attorneys,� Air Force Law Review (2004); and �Asbestos in
Construction Hazard Alert,� The Center to Protect Workers� Rights (2004).

Both the flyer and the Frequent Questions document then list a number of
steps individuals should take when handling this debris. However, the
information provided on the hurricane Web page regarding respiratory
protection that individuals should wear is more clear and useful than the
information in the widely distributed flyer on potential environmental
health hazards and in the relevant EPA public service announcement.
Specifically, the flyer states, "In handling materials that are believed
to be contaminated with asbestos or lead, EPA recommends that, at a
minimum, you wear gloves, goggles, and most importantly, OSHA-approved
respiratory protection, if available." The public service announcement
recommends wearing "gloves, goggles, and a face mask." The information on
EPA's hurricane Web page, however, is more specific about what respiratory
protection is required, where it can be purchased, and the importance of
wearing it: "Wear gloves, goggles, pants, shirts, socks, and most
importantly, a tightly-fitted N-95 OSHA-approved respiratory mask. A
regular `dust mask' is not enough to protect against lead or asbestos.
N-95 masks are available at minimal cost at the hardware store. Carefully
follow instructions when using a respiratory mask to make sure it fits
correctly. A tight fit is important, and despite the heat, it is the best
way to protect yourself."

However, a safety step EPA recommended on its hurricane Web page that many
individuals were not likely to have been able to perform was to determine
if asbestos-containing products--specifically, asbestos-cement corrugated
sheet, asbestos-cement flat sheet, asbestos pipeline wrap, roofing felt,
vinyl-asbestos floor tile, asbestos-cement shingle, millboard,
asbestos-cement pipe, and vermiculate-attic insulation--were present in
their damaged homes. How individuals would determine if these
asbestos-containing products were present is not clear, as another EPA
document (available on the general EPA Web site but not cited in either
the flyer for residents or the Frequent Questions document) states that
unless they are labeled, materials containing asbestos cannot be
identified by visual inspection. This document further cautions readers to
treat the material as if it contained asbestos when in doubt or have it
sampled and analyzed by a qualified professional.

Some communications about exposures to mold also were not sufficiently
clear or consistent to be helpful to residents whose homes had been
flooded. For example, a flyer distributed to many residents specifically
addressing mold is more focused on urging people to clean up than on
providing information on how to protect themselves while doing so. The
flyer, Cleaning Up After a Flood: Addressing Mold Problems, gives this
general safety advice: "Take precautions to limit your exposure to mold
and mold spores when attempting to clean up mold. If you have health
concerns, you may want to have someone else clean up the mold." Yet this
flyer does not explain what precautions to take. Moreover, the flyer urges
residents to act quickly to remove materials contaminated with mold and
bacteria, explaining that these contaminants can trigger allergic
reactions and induce respiratory infections. For "more specific
information on mold," the flyer refers readers to EPA's Indoor Air Quality
Hotline, EPA and CDC Web sites, and two documents available on EPA's Web
page (one addressing mold in schools and commercial buildings and the
other addressing mold in homes). The document that addresses mold in homes
includes the following somewhat tentative guidance: "In order to limit
your exposure to airborne mold, you may want to wear an N-95 respirator,
available at many hardware stores and from companies that advertise on the
Internet...." However, other information on EPA's general Web site that is
not specifically cited in the flyer less ambiguously recommends wearing an
N-95 respirator. Specifically, Flood Cleanup and the Air in Your Home says
to wear an "N-95 respirator" over the mouth and nose to avoid breathing in
mold. This publication further explains that a dust mask or handkerchief
does not provide protection from mold because it can pass through them. In
contrast, EPA's flyer on potential environmental health hazards advises
readers to wear "an N-95 respirator, if available, or a dust mask" when,
for example, cleaning significant areas of mold contamination.

Importantly, as of March 2007, none of EPA's communications, including its
hurricane Web page, were updated to highlight comprehensive information on
mold exposure released by CDC on June 9, 2006. Specifically, CDC's report
Mold Prevention Strategies and Possible Health Effects in the Aftermath of
Hurricanes and Major Floods includes population-specific recommendations
for protection from exposure to mold in buildings after
hurricanes and major floods.^53 For example, CDC states that healthy
individuals do not need to take special precautions for exposure to mold
in buildings after hurricanes when they are observing from outside or
simply inspecting or assessing damage. However, if healthy individuals are
recovering moldy personal belongings (thereby disturbing some dust or
mold), CDC recommends that they wear respiratory protection (N-95
filtering face pieces), gloves, and dermal protection. This report also
identifies individuals who should avoid specific activities (inspecting,
recovering belongings, sweeping, etc.) and specifies the protection they
should have to conduct the activities. For example, pregnant women and
those over the age of 65 may recover personal belongings wearing
respiratory protection, dermal protection, and eye protection but are to
avoid any sweeping or cleaning activities. Individuals with "profound
immunosuppression"--such as those with HIV infection--are to avoid all
exposures, while those with "immunosuppression"--such as those in cancer
treatment--or those with lung disease can conduct some specified
activities with recommended protective gear.

53CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 55(RR08); 1-27 (June 9, 2006).

In addition, some information in EPA's December 2005 environmental
assessment summary was inconsistent. For example, according to the
summary, it does not address indoor environmental issues associated with
re-entry into flooded homes and structures. However, the following excerpt
from the conclusions section of the summary appears to contradict this
statement:

This guidance does not acknowledge that sediments and contaminants may
have been washed into or spilled inside structures as a result of
flooding. Thus, the detailed guidance the summary provides for working
outdoors, which may also be applicable for working inside homes, is not
recommended for working indoors. Specifically, the December assessment
summary provides the following "good personal hygiene" guidance for those
working with or near exposed sediments outdoors:

o"Wear gloves, boots, and safety glasses.

oWear a dust mask (an N-95 dust mask is recommended and can be purchased
at your local pharmacy or building supply stores).

oKeep arms and legs covered. Wear long sleeves and long pants.

oWash hands frequently with soap and water.

oWash work clothes separate from other laundry."

In general, EPA's communications recommend wearing some sort of
respiratory protection as a key step in mitigating potential health
effects of exposure to sediments and three contaminants--asbestos, lead,
and mold--likely to be present in many homes damaged by the 2005 Gulf
Coast hurricanes. However, EPA refers to this protection inconsistently
and with varying levels of specificity:

o "a face mask";

o "N-95 masks";

o"OSHA-approved respiratory protection";

o "a dust mask (an N-95 dust mask is recommended...)";

o "an N-95 respirator, if available, or a dust mask"; and

o"a tightly fitted N-95 OSHA-approved respiratory mask--a regular `dust
mask' is not enough to protect against lead or asbestos."

These varying terms are confusing and could result in an insufficiently
protective choice. For example, "OHSA-approved respiratory protection" is
not a common term or household item, and people might not understand what
to look for and where to find it. Moreover, the federal agency that
approves respirators to protect against a variety of hazards is the
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Thus,
respirators approved by NIOSH that are available for purchase will be
labeled as in
compliance with specified NIOSH requirements.^54 Further, it is not clear
what a "face mask" is, and "dust masks" and "dust respirators" vary widely
in terms of the respiratory protection they provide. That is, dust masks
can provide some protection to the lungs from the irritating effects of
nontoxic dust and airborne particles such as pollen, common household
dust, and cut grass, but they are not protective against mold spores or
toxic dusts. Given the number and variety of dust masks and respirators
that are available and that provide varying levels of protection, EPA's
communications would be more useful if they clearly and consistently named
and described the type of respiratory protection the agency is
recommending for the specific exposures being addressed.

EPA Faced Challenges in Assessing and Mitigating Some Environmental
Impacts of the Gulf Coast Hurricanes

EPA did not remove clearly visible abandoned chemical drums and tanks from
several national wildlife refuges in Louisiana as part of its Katrina
response activities, in part because FEMA disaster assistance funding
generally is not used for debris cleanups on federal land. As a result,
more than a year later, debris containing hazardous materials continued to
pose an environmental threat to natural resources at several refuges. In
addition, EPA's guidance to states on making some emergency debris
disposal decisions is limited, and the agency has a limited debris
management role under the National Response Plan and federal law. Finally,
because of a lack of clarity in the National Response Plan and the absence
of interagency protocols about federal roles in debris management, EPA, in
the immediate aftermath of the storms, could not ensure that debris such
as white goods and electronic waste was handled in a timely and
appropriate manner that mitigated the potential for environmental
contamination.

Funding Issues Delayed Cleanups at National Wildlife Refuges for More Than
a Year

In 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused debris containing hazardous
materials to be released into several national wildlife refuges in
Louisiana, posing an environmental threat to natural resources and
requiring that some refuges be closed to the public because of safety
issues. Under the National Response Plan, EPA is to take appropriate
actions to prevent, minimize, or mitigate a threat to public health,
welfare, or the environment--including the protection of natural
resources--caused by actual or potential oil and hazardous materials
incidents.^55 As EPA and contractor responders worked to clean up releases
of oil and hazardous materials in areas adjacent to several national
wildlife refuges using disaster assistance funding authorized by FEMA,
they identified clearly visible abandoned drums and tanks on the federal
lands, and they could have efficiently removed them. However, FEMA did not
approve the Department of the Interior's request for funding to clean up
this debris in part because it was on federal lands. Consequently, EPA did
not remove clearly visible abandoned chemical drums and tanks from
national wildlife refutes in Louisiana as part of its hurricane response
activities because disaster assistance funding was unavailable for debris
cleanup actions on these federal lands. According to FEMA officials
relying on the agency's regulations and debris management guidance,
federal agencies are responsible for their own property, and FEMA does not
have authority to provide assistance to federal agencies for debris
removal following disasters unless the debris constitutes an immediate
threat to life, public health, and safety.

54Respirator labels may cite compliance with both NIOSH and OSHA requirements. OSHA
regulations require certain employers to have respiratory protection programs to protect
employees against workplace hazards. A requirement of the programs is the selection of
appropriate respirators approved by NIOSH.

According to Fish and Wildlife Service officials, in the fall of 2006--a
year after the hurricanes--chemical drums and tanks remained in the Sabine
and Cameron Prairie refuges in western Louisiana and may also have
remained at the Bayou Sauvage and Big Branch Marsh refuges in the New
Orleans area in eastern Louisiana. For example, a January 2006 study
conducted for the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that about 1,400
containers--potentially holding a total of between 115,000 and 350,000
gallons of hazardous liquids and gases--were at the Sabine National
Wildlife refuge, a 125,000-acre refuge that consists almost entirely of
marshland and open water. The study identified hazardous materials in
containers ranging in size from 35-gallon drums to 10,000-gallon liquid
storage tanks.

According to Fish and Wildlife officials, leaving this debris in place for
about a year caused containers holding hazardous materials to settle into
marshlands and begin to corrode and leak. For example, officials said that
after a chemical sheen was observed on the water during a flight over a
refuge in August 2006, a hazardous materials team found a leaking
55-gallon drum containing hydraulic fluid. Also in August 2006, a fire in
the Big Branch Marsh refuge spread over 120 acres, reaching a debris field
with propane and other hazardous material containers. When containers
began exploding, firefighters had to let the fire burn through the field
because it was too dangerous for them to attempt to put the fire out.

55The National Response Plan directs the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior, which
are responsible for incidents affecting agriculture and natural resources, to coordinate with
EPA and other oil and hazardous materials response partners on the removal of debris
affecting natural and cultural resources.

In addition to presenting safety concerns to responders cleaning up the
debris, the delay in removing the debris complicated the required cleanup
efforts and increased the cost of removal. Fish and Wildlife officials
said that many containers were 2 or 3 feet under water, requiring
excavation using heavy equipment. While smaller materials can be removed
by hand, specialized equipment such as airboats, sleds or skids, and
amphibious marsh vehicles are required to remove larger containers to
minimize adverse effects to the marsh. Such excavations are costly and
could damage sensitive marshy areas, which could have been avoided if
drums and tanks had been removed expeditiously. In addition, Fish and
Wildlife officials said that cleanup crews may not be able to locate all
of the containers that have sunk into marshlands until the containers
begin leaking, which could take several years.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, Sabine and other national
wildlife refuges are important to the long-term recovery of Louisiana
coastal communities because of the tourism they generate. For example,
prior to being closed in 2005 because of safety concerns related to the
debris from Hurricane Rita, the Sabine refuge, a principal component of
the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, a National Scenic Byway, and an
All-American Road designated by the Federal Highway Administration, helped
attract about 300,000 visitors each year. The Sabine refuge's 125,000
acres are home to concentrations of ducks, geese, alligators, muskrats,
nutria, raptors, and other wildlife. Visitors to the refuge have
opportunities to observe wildlife and have access to a wetland walkway and
a visitors center; recreational options include boating, fishing, and
hunting.

According to a Fish and Wildlife official, previous hurricanes in other
Gulf states have not affected national wildlife refuges as severely as the
hazardous material debris impacts of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on
Louisiana's refuges. Consequently, he said that Fish and Wildlife has not
sought funding for hazardous material debris removal under the Stafford
Act following other hurricanes in recent years. Because disaster
assistance funding from FEMA was not available for cleaning up hazardous
materials on these federal lands following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita,
Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service sought appropriations for this
activity, which the agency received as part of a June 2006 supplemental
appropriation for disaster response activities.^56 The Fish and Wildlife
Service allocated $12 million for the cleanup of the Sabine refuge and $8
million for the other refuges. The agency received this appropriation 8
months after EPA's cleanup of the adjacent area under the National
Response Plan. In addition, EPA and the Fish and Wildlife Service do not
have a protocol for expeditiously handling circumstances such as cleanup
of national wildlife refuges following disasters, and developing
interagency agreements with EPA and the Coast Guard for the cleanups
required time and resulted in further delays.

In September 2006, Fish and Wildlife signed agreements with EPA and the
Coast Guard to obtain these agencies' assistance in cleaning up the Sabine
refuge. Subsequently, EPA provided the incident commander for the team
that oversaw the hazardous materials recovery and debris cleanup in the
Sabine and Cameron Prairie refuges in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, while the
Coast Guard provided the deputy incident commander and other support. The
project was completed in January 2007. While the Fish and Wildlife Service
had estimated that about 1,400 containers potentially filled with
hazardous liquids and gases had been deposited into the refuge, about
2,200 such containers were found and removed, along with several thousand
household hazardous waste items, tires, batteries, munitions, and white
goods. Fish and Wildlife estimated that cleanup at Bayou Sauvage and Big
Branch Marsh would be completed by May 2007.

56The Fish and Wildlife Service also considered requesting EPA cleanup assistance under the
Superfund law, the Clean Water Act, and the Oil Pollution Act. In a draft 2006 letter to EPA,
the Fish and Wildlife regional director stated that these authorities extended to the cleanup
needed on the refuges because the debris was deposited on these lands by the hurricanes,
not because of any action on the part of Fish and Wildlife. While Fish and Wildlife worked
with EPA to draft a letter requesting EPA assistance under the Superfund law, the request
was never sent to EPA. Under this law, the Superfund is generally unavailable at federal
facilities. Funds from the Superfund may be used to pay for removal actions on federal lands
at EPA�s discretion but must be reimbursed by the relevant federal agency.

EPA Has a Limited Debris Management Role under Federal Law and the
National Response Plan, and Its Guidance to States on Making Certain
Emergency Debris Disposal Decisions Is Limited

EPA's 1995 guide on planning for disposal of disaster debris acknowledges
that disaster debris can overwhelm existing landfills--solid waste
management facilities--or force communities to use disposal options that
otherwise would not be acceptable.^57 The guide also notes that state
waste management agencies can make special accommodations for the unusual
waste management needs resulting from a disaster, such as temporarily
lifting permit requirements for landfills. However, the guide does not
provide specific guidance on the selection of emergency landfill sites or
practices that state agencies should consider when making special debris
disposal accommodations following disasters.

In addition, as set forth in the Stafford Act and other executive policy,
EPA and other federal agencies generally provide disaster assistance at
the request of state or local governments.^58 Along these lines, when the
National Response Plan is activated in response to a Stafford Act major
disaster such as Hurricane Katrina, EPA's role regarding waste disposal is
to provide assistance requested by a state. For example, EPA may supply
environmental scientists and engineers to assess landfills, help locate
disposal sites for debris clearance activities, and assist with
contaminated debris management activities.^59 EPA's support may also
include providing technical assistance and consultation to the Department
of Health and Human Services on solid waste disposal issues related to
public health effects.^60

Further, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the federal
law addressing the management of hazardous and other solid wastes,
addresses nonhazardous solid wastes under subtitle D. According to
subtitle D, states have primary responsibility for permitting and
monitoring solid waste disposal facilities (generally referred to as
landfills) and developing solid waste management plans in accordance with
minimum federal requirements.^61 EPA regulations establish criteria for
classifying different types of landfills and practices that may result in
adverse effects on health or the environment, among other things. The act
prohibits "open dumping"--the disposal of solid waste in landfills failing
to meet the relevant criteria--and requires state plans to prohibit the
establishment of open dumps. RCRA provides EPA with limited authority to
address environmental problems at solid waste landfills.

57EPA Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, Planning for Disaster Debris
(December 1995).

58See 42 U.S.C. � 5170 et seq.; Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5 (Feb. 28, 2003).

59EPA provides this support to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal coordinator for
the public works and engineering emergency support function, which addresses debris
removal and disposal, among other things.

60EPA provides this support under the public health and medical services emergency
support function, which is coordinated by the Department of Health and Human Services.
The department, in coordination with EPA�s oil and hazardous materials response, may
request this support from agencies such as EPA.

Solid waste landfills may generally receive household waste (garbage),
industrial waste (solid waste generated by manufacturing, industrial, or
mining processes), commercial nonhazardous waste (solid waste generated by
stores, offices, restaurants, and other nonmanufacturing entities), and
construction and demolition (C&D) waste (nonhazardous waste that is not
water soluble, such as metal, concrete, and asphalt). Under Louisiana
solid waste regulations, landfills that receive household waste,
industrial waste, or commercial nonhazardous waste must have safeguards
that include a liner designed to control groundwater contamination.^62 The
regulations do not require C&D landfills to have liners in place.^63
Louisiana regulations exclude asbestos-contaminated waste, white goods,
furniture, trash, and treated lumber from the categories of debris that
may be disposed of at C&D landfills.

Because EPA's debris management role is limited under federal law and the
National Response Plan, its guidance to states and localities on planning
for disposal of disaster debris could be especially important in helping
ensure that hazardous materials are disposed of in landfills with
appropriate safeguards when disposal options that would not otherwise be
acceptable are used for disaster debris, thereby preventing contaminants
from migrating and causing air, water, and soil contamination. Such
guidance could help states and localities consider the potential
environmental impacts of debris management accommodations that may be made
in emergency situations if affected areas are to be cleared of debris
without causing adverse public health effects in the future. One potential
example of a prior problem with hurricane debris is the Agriculture Street
Superfund site in New Orleans, which was a municipal landfill from about
1909 until the late 1950s. During this period, oil was used to burn the
refuse at the dump, and during the 1940s and 1950s the area was routinely
sprayed with DDT. The landfill was reopened after Hurricane Betsy occurred
in 1965 to receive debris from destroyed buildings and ash from municipal
incinerators. In the 1970s and continuing into the late 1980s, portions of
the site were developed with private and public housing units, an
elementary school, and a community center. Following health concerns among
residents in the area, EPA initiated investigations at the site in 1986,
ultimately identifying elevated levels of lead, arsenic, and carcinogenic
polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons--the primary contaminants of concern
identified in sediment tests following Hurricane Katrina. Analyses of the
health effects of these contaminants found at the Agriculture Street
Landfill led EPA to place the site on the Superfund National Priorities
List in 1994. Cleanup of the site, which primarily entailed soil
excavation, placement of clean cover and soil, and resodding, was
completed in 2001.^64 As part of litigation involving EPA efforts to
recover its cleanup costs at the site, some private parties have argued
that the debris disposed of at the Agriculture Street Landfill in the wake
of Hurricane Betsy contained hazardous substances that contributed to the
contamination at the site.^65 EPA officials told us that after years of
case development research and discovery the agency has no evidence that
hazardous substances were disposed of at the Agriculture Street Landfill
during the Hurricane Betsy response. The case is pending, and settlement
negotiations are under way.

61While EPA may review approved state subtitle D permit programs and withdraw approval
of state programs it determines do not meet the national minimum requirements, EPA
officials told us the agency has never withdrawn approval of a state subtitle D permit
program.

62These landfills are designated as Type I or II facilities under Louisiana solid waste
regulations. These facilities must have a composite liner that consists of a geomembrane
liner at least 30-mil thick installed directly above and in uniform contact with a 3-foot
recompacted clay liner.

63These landfills are designated as Type III facilities under Louisiana solid waste regulations.

As the entity with primary responsibility for solid waste disposal under
RCRA subtitle D, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has
made decisions about landfills and the disposal of debris that some
studies suggest could have long-term, negative environmental impacts. For
example, under a November 2005 Louisiana Department of Environmental
Quality amendment to an emergency order addressing Hurricane Katrina and
its aftermath, the types of debris that C&D landfills could receive were
broadened to include some potentially hazardous wastes, including
furniture, painted or stained lumber from demolished buildings, and
asbestos-contaminated waste that cannot be extracted from demolition
debris.^66 The order states that this and other actions were taken because
Hurricane Katrina created conditions that require immediate action to
prevent irreparable damage to the environment and serious threats to life
or safety. A Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality official told
us that the department elected to include these categories of waste
because separating this waste from other debris took considerable effort,
and the department determined the environmental risks resulting from the
expanded definition were minimal. The official also noted that the
expanded definition allowed this waste to be cleaned up more quickly,
enabling residents to return home.

64Soil samples collected at the Agriculture Street Landfill site following Hurricane Katrina
revealed elevated levels of benzo(a)pyrene, a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon. EPA and
local authorities are developing a plan to address this contamination.

65United States v. City of New Orleans, et al, Civil Action No. 02-3618, Section E, Magistrate
3 (E.D. La.).

However, a draft 1995 study prepared for EPA identifies a number of the
debris components being allowed at C&D landfills under the emergency
order--including asbestos insulation and shingles, furniture, and wood
paints and stains--as "problematic," even though these materials are not
necessarily classified as hazardous wastes under RCRA.^67 Moreover,
studies by a Louisiana State University research institute and an
environmental engineering firm state that these categories of waste can
introduce hazardous materials into landfills, increasing the likelihood of
pollution.^68 For example, wood treated with chromated copper arsenate as
a preservative can leach arsenic, which can cause problems with
circulatory systems and may increase cancer risk if ingested. Chromated
copper arsenate is often used to prevent termite infestation in areas
where termites are prevalent, such as New Orleans. Lumber with lead paint
also poses health hazards. Lead poisoning in children can cause learning
disabilities, impaired hearing, and behavioral problems, and in pregnant
women, it can result in adverse developmental effects to fetuses. Even
before Hurricane Katrina struck, concentrations of lead as much as 10
times EPA's screening level were detected in soil samples taken in New
Orleans. In addition, some household furniture is treated with fire
retardants containing polybrominated diphenyl ethers, carcinogens that
have been found as environmental pollutants accumulating in human breast
milk and wildlife.

66State of Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, Second Amended Declaration of
Emergency and Administrative Order regarding Hurricane Katrina and Its Aftermath (Nov.
2, 2005). The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality extended the emergency
order several times, most recently extending the broadened definition through May 18, 2007.

67ICF Inc., Construction and Demolition Waste Landfills (draft document prepared for the
EPA Office of Solid Waste, 1995).

68G.F. Lee, Summary of Findings on the Environmental Impacts of the Proposed C&D
Landfill on Top of the Closed Gentilly Landfill (February 2006); and John H. Pardue,
Director, Louisiana Water Resources Research Institute, Louisiana State University,
Anticipating environmental problems facing hurricane debris landfills in New Orleans
East (undated).

The inclusion of asbestos-contaminated waste mixed with other debris in
the state's expanded definition of C&D debris may also present a potential
health hazard. As we previously noted, asbestos exposure has been
recognized for many years as causing serious human health problems.
Moreover, the requirements of the Clean Air Act's asbestos work practice
standard generally do not apply to residential buildings with four or
fewer units, and unregulated asbestos-containing material may be disposed
of in C&D landfills.^69 The extensive renovation and demolition activities
in New Orleans create the potential for large quantities of
asbestos-contaminated waste to enter C&D landfills.

Furthermore, while white goods and household hazardous waste may generally
not be disposed of at C&D landfills, until recently the emergency order
stated that such wastes should be segregated from other solid waste prior
to disposal in C&D landfills except in cases where segregation is not
practicable. The order did not specifically state what must happen in
cases where segregation is not practicable. Environmental groups filed a
lawsuit against Louisiana in August 2006 alleging that the state's order
authorizes the disposal of white goods and household hazardous waste in
landfills that do not meet RCRA criteria for these types of debris and,
therefore, that the state has authorized "open dumping" of potentially
dangerous solid wastes in violation of RCRA's prohibition on such
dumping.^70 The state contends that the order does not authorize any
practices that violate RCRA and, accordingly, that the groups' suit is
without merit. EPA is currently mediating settlement negotiations between
the parties. On January 19, 2007, the Louisiana Department of
Environmental Quality issued an amended emergency order that, among other
things, deleted the phrase "where segregation is not practicable."

69Louisiana also authorized some landfills in the New Orleans area to operate as �enhanced�
C&D landfills that may receive regulated asbestos-containing material as well as
unregulated material. These facilities are required to have additional controls in place, such
as air monitoring for asbestos emissions. According to the Louisiana Department of
Environmental Quality, these landfills meet the landfill requirements under the federal
asbestos standard (40 C.F.R. � 61.154).
70The lawsuit further alleges that because the emergency orders conflict with RCRA�s open
dumping prohibition, the state�s issuance and implementation of the orders violates the
Supremacy Clause in Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.

In addition, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality authorized
the controversial use of two landfills to receive C&D waste in locations
of concern to nearby communities and environmental organizations.
Specifically, pursuant to its Katrina emergency authorities, the Louisiana
Department of Environmental Quality authorized (1) the utilization of an
existing C&D landfill in proximity to hurricane-devastated areas in New
Orleans called the Gentilly Landfill and (2) the construction and
operation of the Chef Menteur landfill, located near a minority
residential community and a national wildlife refuge.^71 Studies conducted
by an environmental engineering firm and Louisiana State University raised
concerns about debris disposal at the Gentilly and Chef Menteur landfills,
citing possible surface water and groundwater implications from
potentially hazardous storm debris. These studies suggest that debris
disposal in landfills without appropriate safeguards could result in the
migration of contaminants, potentially causing pollution and affecting
public health and the environment.^72 For example, the studies identified
concerns about the potential discharge of leachate (water that has come
into contact with waste) into water--in the case of Gentilly, into
groundwater and surface water, and in the case of Chef Menteur, into
surrounding wetlands. In both cases, concerned groups filed lawsuits. The
Gentilly suit was settled, with the Louisiana Department of Environmental
Quality agreeing to limit the amount of debris entering the landfill
daily. In the case of Chef Menteur, an environmental group alleged that
proper procedures had not been followed in issuing an emergency
authorization for the landfill under the Clean Water Act--in particular,
that the public had not been provided notice and the opportunity to
comment on the action.^73

71The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality issued a permit to conduct
construction and demolition waste disposal to the Gentilly Landfill in 2004 and an Order to
Authorize Commencement of Operations on August 29, 2005. However, according to the
Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, following the litigation related to a lawsuit
against the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, �It became apparent that
although the decision to use the Gentilly landfill was properly based upon the Louisiana
Department of Environmental Quality�s emergency authority under the Louisiana
Environmental Quality Act, this authority and the underlying reasoning for arriving at that
decision was not clearly reflected in the Order.� Therefore, the order was revoked and an
administrative order and decision were issued authorizing use of the landfill pursuant to
state law and the Hurricane Katrina emergency order.

72See footnote 68.

73This lawsuit was dismissed by the court 2 days after the landfill was closed on August 14,
2006, when, as is discussed later in this report, the local order authorizing the zoning of the
landfill expired and was not renewed.

In authorizing the use of the Gentilly landfill under the Hurricane
Katrina emergency order, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality
stated that it had considered alternative sites and determined that the
Gentilly site met state solid waste requirements and was located in
proximity to the bulk of the hurricane-generated C&D debris. The
department further noted that allowing debris disposal at Gentilly would
decrease waste-hauling time and expense and alleviate traffic problems,
thereby aiding New Orleans' recovery. In addition, although the Chef
Menteur site faced opposition, the Louisiana Department of Environmental
Quality maintained that it was environmentally suitable, citing
independent sampling of air and water quality in May and June of 2006. The
air results found no contaminants at or above health risk levels, while
the water quality results showed that the contaminants tested for fell
within the daily maximum limits of the site's discharge permit, though
ammonia was detected above the monthly average discharge limit.
Furthermore, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality underscored
the importance of the centrally located landfill to disaster cleanup in
Orleans Parish.

EPA's review of the Gentilly site following its authorization to receive
Hurricane Katrina debris found that current use of the landfill appeared
to be consistent with the types and volumes of wastes for which it was
designed and permitted by the state, but noted that there is no way to
insulate the federal government against future Superfund liability
absolutely. EPA recommended steps that Gentilly operators should take to
minimize risks, including posting signs, developing debris inspection and
segregation procedures, and working with the Louisiana Department of
Environmental Quality on groundwater monitoring. EPA officials told us the
agency worked with the Department of Environmental Quality to develop a
process for reviewing key technical areas of concern at the Gentilly site,
and EPA officials said that the Louisiana Department of Environmental
Quality has put effective measures in place to address these areas of
concern. In May 2007, EPA said that the Gentilly landfill operator
installed groundwater monitoring wells and inclinometers at the Gentilly
site and reported that the environmental samples "do not indicate any
problem." The newly constructed Chef Menteur landfill continued to
generate considerable controversy, and the Mayor of New Orleans allowed
the local order authorizing the zoning of the landfill to expire on August
14, 2006--closing it 4 months after it opened.

While EPA provided consultations to the Louisiana Department of
Environmental Quality on some landfill decisions, under the National
Response Plan and RCRA, the agency does not have a formal role in this
decision making. Further, EPA did not review or approve state decisions
regarding the use of the Gentilly or Chef Menteur landfills. However, at
the request of the state, EPA did provide technical support and conducted
some oversight activities at New Orleans area landfills to supplement
existing controls at landfills.^74 Specifically, EPA took steps to promote
the segregation of debris before it entered landfills, such as organizing
hazardous waste collection events. At the request of the Louisiana
Department of Environmental Quality, EPA also began sending landfill
observers to about 12 landfills in the New Orleans area in February
2006.^75 EPA's landfill observers usually visited landfills unannounced
and documented that they were generally operating appropriately--with
entrance tower monitors and dump-site spotters in place, record keeping on
violations, and financial and other documentation in order--and prepared
and transmitted a report to the Louisiana Department of Environmental
Quality citing any problems.^76 EPA officials told us the problems
observers identified were minor, such as excessive dust on roads or
instances of debris segregation not taking place. Moreover, EPA officials
believe that work practices at the landfills, such as periodic covering,
mitigate the potential migration of specific materials from the landfills.
However, the officials also noted that while EPA's limited oversight
provided assistance to the state, it did not allow the agency to ensure
that debris containing hazardous materials would not enter landfills.

74According to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, landfills were subject to
several controls intended to minimize hazardous waste disposal, including monitoring at
entrance towers and debris dump sites. In addition, daily inspections by department
officials at five construction and demolition landfills in the New Orleans area, an increase
from twice-weekly inspections, were conducted in May and June 2006.

75According to EPA, as of December 2006, EPA landfill observers were observing at seven
landfills, the reduced number reflecting the fact that some landfills are no longer receiving
hurricane-related debris.

76EPA landfill observers also visited landfill sites in Mississippi from October 2005 to June
2006.

Finally, detailed guidance from EPA to the states on advance planning for
potential emergency landfill sites and practices to consider when making
special debris disposal accommodations following disasters might have
helped Louisiana avoid some of the controversies and lawsuits it faced as
a result of its emergency debris management decisions in New Orleans.
Along these lines, after reviewing its Hurricane Katrina response actions
in Mississippi, EPA's Region 4 identified helping states with
hurricane-prone coastal areas with such advance planning as one of several
steps EPA could take to improve its emergency responses in the future.
Specifically, Region 4's September 2006 summary report on its response
actions in Mississippi stated that advance planning for landfill sites
would allow geologic and other crucial data to be known before an
incident, including data for staging areas or temporary landfills for
vegetative and C&D debris. The report said that EPA Region 4 could provide
assistance to states so that debris-clearing operations have preapproved
disposal sites that would not pose long-term environmental issues after
they were used during an emergency.

Lack of Clarity on Federal Debris Management Roles Delayed Actions to
Ensure That White Goods and Electronic Waste Were Handled in a Timely and
Appropriate Manner

The recycling and disposal of debris such as white goods and electronic
waste also presented the agency with a challenge in mitigating the
potential for environmental contamination following the storms. Because of
a lack of clarity in the National Response Plan and the absence of
interagency protocols about federal roles in debris management, EPA could
not ensure that debris such as white goods and electronic waste was
handled in a timely and appropriate manner. Specifically, the plan does
not state whether EPA or the Army Corps of Engineers should manage the
collection, processing, recycling, and disposal of white goods, such as
refrigerators and freezers, and electronic waste, such as televisions,
computers, and printers. Recycling of white goods entails the removal of
chemicals, such as chlorofluorocarbons and other refrigerants that are
harmful to the environment. Recycling of electronic waste entails removing
toxic components, such as lead and mercury. Computers contain toxic
chemicals such as mercury, while the average television contains more than
4 pounds of lead.

The National Response Plan assigns the Corps primary responsibility for
the public works and engineering emergency support function, which
includes debris removal and disposal. In addition to EPA's role as the
coordinator for the federal response to actual or potential discharges of
oil and hazardous materials, the plan states that EPA can, among other
things, assist the Corps with contaminated debris management activities by
coordinating and providing resources, assessments, data, expertise,
technical assistance, monitoring, and other appropriate support. In this
regard, EPA's Hurricane Katrina response activities included the
collection and disposal of household hazardous waste such as paints,
pesticides, and propane tanks. While debris such as white goods and
electronic waste contain hazardous materials, neither the plan nor
interagency protocols address whether EPA or the Corps should manage the
collection, processing, recycling, and disposal of these types of waste.

After initial delays in determining whether EPA or the Corps would be
responsible for white goods and electronic waste disposal, the agencies
agreed that they would fulfill this role jointly in Louisiana, while the
Corps or local agencies would handle white goods and electronic waste
disposal in Mississippi. Local officials in Louisiana and Mississippi told
us that confusion about EPA's role in white goods and electronics waste
disposal resulted in delays in removing and disposing of this debris. A
parish official in Louisiana also said that the delays may have resulted
in the inappropriate disposal of some electronic waste in landfills
without proper safeguards.

In Mississippi, county officials from the three coastal counties hit by
Katrina expressed frustration that EPA did not assist with either white
goods or electronic waste disposal. Officials in one county told us that
the collection of white goods was delayed for 7 weeks because of confusion
among EPA, the Corps, and the county about responsibility for this task.
Officials from another county said that while they appreciated EPA's
assistance with household hazardous waste collection, the county would
have also appreciated EPA's help with other activities that they believed
involved environmental issues, such as white goods and electronic waste
disposal and removing and cleaning up fuel that leached into waterways and
bayous from abandoned automobiles. Although EPA did help coordinate some
electronic waste recycling in one Mississippi county, an official from
this county said that the effort was limited and only came about at the
county's insistence. According to officials from all three counties, EPA
generally informed them that white goods and electronic waste disposal
were beyond the purview of the agency's disaster response activities in
Mississippi. One of these officials suggested that EPA and the Corps
should develop a better plan to address the collection of white goods
following future disasters. According to EPA, the agency has been having a
series of discussions with the Corps and FEMA to clarify roles and
responsibilities and enhance coordination, based on Katrina experience
related to debris, among other things. EPA said it has not yet been
determined how the discussions will be documented, but possibilities
include a memorandum of understanding or supporting documents to the
National Response Plan.

Conclusions

Working under extraordinary conditions, EPA undertook a broad range of
activities to support state and local entities in Louisiana and
Mississippi in assessing and minimizing the environmental risks resulting
from Hurricane Katrina, including search and rescue efforts that brought
800 New Orleans residents to safety. Because of the breadth and scope of
this disaster, cleanup and recovery efforts are still under way in the New
Orleans area. For example, many homes have yet to be demolished or
substantially renovated. A significant number of them will be demolished
or renovated during the next year, and likely these activities will
continue for a longer period of time. Given the age of many New Orleans
residences, environmental hazards such as asbestos are likely to be
present. For the demolitions covered by the no action assurances, in lieu
of the requirement for prior identification and removal of regulated
asbestos-containing materials, homes that are not inspected before
demolition are required to be wetted during the demolition and disposition
processes to reduce potential asbestos emissions. However, much of the
demolition and renovation activities, including house gutting, will be
undertaken by individual homeowners; these activities are not regulated
and therefore none of the asbestos control requirements apply. While EPA
has taken steps to monitor asbestos concentrations in the air in New
Orleans, it is not clear how its approach can accomplish the agency's
stated goal of measuring the effects from both the regulated
asbestos-containing material, to which the no action assurances might
apply, and the unregulated activities, which would include demolitions and
renovations by individual homeowners. To date, according to EPA, the
asbestos air data it has collected have not identified potential problems
regarding public exposure to asbestos fibers. However, these results may
not be representative of asbestos releases to which residents, workers,
and volunteers may be exposed in some neighborhoods because of monitoring
gaps stemming from monitor locations and the scaling back of monitoring
sites a few months after demolitions began. Specifically, without
sufficient and targeted asbestos air monitoring data from neighborhoods
where demolitions and renovations are concentrated, EPA has limited
assurance that the public health is protected from risks associated with
inhalation of asbestos fibers potentially stemming from the substantial
levels of both regulated and unregulated demolition and renovation
activities occurring in concentrated geographic areas.

In addition, EPA could improve the effectiveness of its communications
about the potential health risks from exposure to environmental
contamination when responding to future disasters. Following a disaster
that has involved evacuation, residents are typically anxious to return to
their homes, and public leaders are eager to take steps to return to
normalcy, including having residents return as soon as it is safe for them
to do so. Among the important information residents need in order to
minimize their environmental health risks when they do return is timely,
complete, clear, and consistent guidance about the environmental
contamination they may be exposed to, both indoors and outdoors, and how
to best protect themselves from it. Without such information, people may
return too soon or without the proper protective gear and supplies, which
might expose them to both short-term and long-term negative health
effects. This could well have been the case in New Orleans since, for
example, EPA did not state until August 2006 that its December 2005
assessment summary applied to short-term visits, such as to view the
external damage to their homes. This situation was exacerbated by some
confusing information EPA provided in public service communications--for
example, about the respiratory protection residents should use to mitigate
potential exposure to asbestos, lead, and mold in their homes.

Mitigating some challenges EPA faced addressing Hurricane Katrina could
better protect the environment in the future. For example, while under the
National Response Plan, EPA's responsibilities include mitigating threats
to the environment--including the protection of natural resources--funding
may not always be available to carry out these essential actions. It is
shortsighted, inefficient, and potentially dangerous to limit the removal
of debris containing hazardous materials to state lands and waterways,
halting such cleanups arbitrarily at federal land or water boundaries.
Thus, while the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service
ultimately requested and received funding through supplemental
appropriations that it then provided to EPA to conduct the cleanups, this
is not an effective or efficient solution in disaster situations. In such
situations, timely cleanup can lessen the damage to the environment,
better protect the public from exposure to contaminants, prevent further
migration of hazardous materials, and likely be more cost-effective.
Without a framework in place to enable EPA, the Coast Guard, and federal
land management agencies such as the Department of the Interior and the
Department of Agriculture to quickly obtain funding to respond to
environmental impacts of disasters on federal lands and waterways, these
natural resources--and state areas that can be harmed by the migration of
chemical releases from federal lands--are at risk.

In addition, given EPA's limited role in ensuring that states dispose of
storm debris appropriately, EPA's lack of sufficient guidance to state and
local entities on selecting additional landfill sites and on practices
that state agencies should consider when making special accommodations for
debris disposal following disasters becomes increasingly important. Such
guidance could help avoid controversies over landfill sites selected under
emergency conditions, assist state and local agencies in planning for
accommodations that may be needed to handle large volumes of hazardous
materials after disasters, and identify strategies needed to mitigate the
potential environmental impacts of such accommodations. Finally, greater
clarity in the roles of EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers in recycling
and disposing of white goods and electronic waste could help minimize the
inappropriate disposal of these wastes in the immediate aftermath of
disasters.

Recommendations for Executive Action

To enhance EPA's ability to monitor and assess information on asbestos
emissions resulting from the extensive demolition and renovation
activities in New Orleans, we recommend that the EPA Administrator 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.

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, we recommend that the
EPA Administrator take the following two actions:

oDevelop 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.

oDevelop 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.

To better enable EPA and its partner agencies to minimize the
environmental risks resulting from future disasters, we recommend that the
EPA Administrator take the following three actions:

oWork 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.

oProvide 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.

oWork 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.

Agency Comments and Our Evaluation

In commenting on a draft of this report, EPA's Associate Administrator for
Homeland Security agreed with all but one of the recommendations.
Specifically, EPA agreed with the recommendations to provide additional
asbestos air monitoring in New Orleans, improve environmental health risk
communications following disasters, provide more guidance to states on
managing debris disposal following disasters, and clarify debris
management roles with the Army Corps of Engineers. However, EPA disagreed
with our recommendation that the agency convene a working group that
includes potentially affected federal land management agencies and the
Coast Guard to develop protocols or memorandums of understanding on the
steps the agencies should take to obtain disaster funding for
environmental cleanups on federal lands in the future--and thereby address
damage to federal lands and wildlife in a timely and efficient manner. EPA
asserted that this recommendation would be more appropriately addressed to
the Department of the Interior and FEMA. We continue to believe that EPA
should be involved in helping to resolve these issues because, under the
National Response Plan, EPA is the chair of the National Response Team,
whose duties include national planning and response coordination for oil
and hazardous materials incidents. We do agree that FEMA, which declined
to provide funding to the Department of the Interior for cleanup after
Hurricane Katrina, and DHS, which coordinates the federal response to
disasters under the National Response Plan, should also take part in
planning efforts to resolve funding issues concerning the removal of
hazardous materials from federal lands following a disaster. Accordingly,
we have modified our recommendation to state that EPA should also work
with DHS and FEMA, as well as with federal land management agencies and
the Coast Guard, 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. This recommendation is aimed at supporting EPA's efforts in
conducting its environmental protection and coordination missions
expeditiously in future disasters, thereby avoiding situations in which
the removal of hazardous materials is halted at federal land or water
boundaries and individual federal land management agencies waste valuable
time seeking appropriations to pay EPA to conduct cleanup, as was the case
during the year following the Gulf Coast hurricanes. Further, as was the
case following Hurricane Katrina, EPA will often have the necessary
cleanup infrastructure in place (such as contractors, equipment, and
personnel with cleanup oversight expertise) to respond rapidly and
effectively to contamination. EPA also provided comments on aspects of the
report it considered misleading or inaccurate, as well as technical
comments, which we incorporated as appropriate. EPA's letter and our
detailed response to it appear in appendix II.

We are sending copies of this report to the Adminstrator, EPA; appropriate
congressional committees; and other interested parties. We will also make
copies available to others on request. In addition, this report will be
available at no charge on the GAO Web site at http://www.gao.gov .

If you or your staffs have any questions about this report, please contact
me at (202) 512-3841 or [email protected] . Contact points for our
Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on the
last page of this report. Other GAO staff who made major contributors to
this report are listed in appendix III.

John B. Stephenson
Director, Natural Resources and Environment

List of Committees

The Honorable Barbara Boxer
Chairman
The Honorable James M. Inhofe
Ranking Member
Committee on Environment and Public Works
United States Senate

The Honorable John D. Dingell
Chairman
The Honorable Joe Barton
Ranking Member
Committee on Energy and Commerce
House of Representatives

Appendix I:  Objectives, Scope, and Methodology

The objectives of our work on environmental issues stemming from Hurricane
Katrina were to (1) review the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA)
actions under the Department of Homeland Security's National Response Plan
to assess and mitigate the environmental impacts of Hurricane Katrina; (2)
determine the extent to which EPA has assurance that public health in New
Orleans is being protected from asbestos inhalation health risks posed by
extensive demolition activities; (3) determine the extent to which EPA's
communications on environmental health risks posed by Hurricane Katrina
have provided useful information to the public; and (4) identify
challenges EPA has faced in addressing the environmental impacts of
Hurricane Katrina that, if mitigated, could enable EPA to better protect
the environment in future disasters.

In reviewing EPA's actions under the National Response Plan to assess and
mitigate the environmental impacts of Hurricane Katrina, we analyzed the
National Response Plan and its accompanying annexes--particularly the
Emergency Support Function Annexes, which specify the various
responsibilities EPA and other agencies have with regard to providing
emergency assistance. We discussed EPA's hurricane response actions with
EPA's Offices of Emergency Management, Enforcement and Compliance
Assurance, Water, Air, and Solid Waste and reviewed documentation related
to these actions. We visited the EPA Incident Command Centers in both
Metairie, Louisiana, and Biloxi, Mississippi, and discussed with various
EPA officials from Region 6 (covering Louisiana) and Region 4 (covering
Mississippi) their overall Hurricane Katrina response actions. We visited
affected areas to survey the massive damage and cleanup operations,
including the Lower Ninth Ward and the Murphy Oil Spill in Louisiana and
some of the Mississippi's most severely damaged areas, such as Waveland,
Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, and Gulfport. We interviewed other federal, state,
and local officials who were either directly or indirectly involved with
EPA's response efforts, such as officials with the Federal Emergency
Management Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of the
Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. State and local officials
interviewed included representatives with the Louisiana and Mississippi
Departments of Environmental Quality and local officials from Jefferson,
Plaquemines, Orleans, and St. Bernard Parishes in Louisiana and from
Jackson, Hancock, and Harrison Counties in Mississippi. In addition, we
spoke with national and regional stakeholder groups, including the Natural
Resources Defense Council, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, the
Louisiana Environmental Action Network, the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil
and Gas Association, the Mississippi Environmental Recovery Alliance, the
Mississippi Power Company, and Sierra Club chapters in both Louisiana and
Mississippi. We also reviewed various Congressional Research Service
reports that provided an overall context for various environmental issues
emerging from Hurricane Katrina, as well as reports from the EPA Inspector
General on the hurricane response.

To analyze the extent to which EPA has assurance that public health in New
Orleans is being protected from asbestos inhalation health risks posed by
extensive demolition activities, we reviewed key documents, such as
relevant Clean Air Act provisions; EPA's national emissions standards for
asbestos, which set work practice standards for building demolition and
renovation activities; and EPA's no action assurance letters to Louisiana
and Mississippi. Other key documents reviewed include EPA's September 2005
Overview Plan for Ambient Air Monitoring After Hurricane Katrina, EPA's
October 2005 Regional Air Monitoring Plan for Hurricane Katrina in
Louisiana, and EPA's February 2006 Contingency Air Monitoring and Sampling
Plan for C&D Burning or Grinding Sites, all of which cover areas of
southern Louisiana impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We also
reviewed EPA's March 2006 Quality Assurance Project Plan for a building
demolition project in Fort Smith, Arkansas, testing an alternative
asbestos control method for building demolition. Additionally, we examined
the air monitoring data EPA posted on its "Response to 2005 Hurricanes"
Web page, which identified the location of the various air monitors the
agency used to measure air quality after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in
Louisiana and Mississippi and the pollutants each monitor measured. We
spoke with officials from EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance
Assurance regarding EPA's asbestos no action assurance letters and its
approach to addressing asbestos issues resulting from the hurricanes. We
also spoke with EPA officials in the Office of Emergency Management,
Office of Research and Development, and Regions 4 and 6 regarding asbestos
and demolition issues, as well as with officials from the Army Corps of
Engineers and the Louisiana and Mississippi Departments of Environmental
Quality.

To determine the extent to which EPA's communications on environmental
health risks posed by Hurricane Katrina have provided useful information
to the public, we reviewed the agency's key communications about the
potential health risks from environmental contamination in New
Orleans--three environmental assessment summaries that were released in
December 2005, March 2006, and August 2006. We also reviewed EPA's various
flyers, public service announcements, advisories, and other documents on
EPA's "Response to 2005 Hurricanes" Web page that provide information to
the public about environmental health risks and how to mitigate them. We
spoke with EPA officials from the Office of Emergency Management and
Regions 4 and 6 about the agency's efforts to communicate information
regarding the environmental health risks from the hurricanes and reviewed
comments provided by EPA's Science Advisory Board related to EPA's
sediment sampling plan. Additionally, we reviewed various reports from the
Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, including the agency's June 2006 report Mold Prevention
Strategies and Possible Health Effects in the Aftermath of Hurricanes and
Major Floods. We also reviewed EPA Inspector General reports on EPA's
response activities. The focus of our review of EPA's communications of
environmental health risks following Hurricane Katrina was on their
content and the extent to which they provided clear and consistent
information; we did not evaluate the scientific merits of EPA's
environmental risk assessment methodology.

In conducting this work, we identified several challenges EPA faced in
addressing the environmental impacts of Hurricane Katrina, based on our
interviews with the federal, state, local, and private-sector officials
identified above; our site visits in Louisiana and Mississippi; and a
review of federal and private-sector reports and articles about
environmental cleanup activities in the Gulf Coast after the hurricanes.
Regarding the landfill issues, we reviewed related laws and guidance such
as the Stafford act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the
National Response Plan, Federal Emergency Management Agency debris
management guidance, state regulations and emergency orders, and
independent reports that addressed potential debris issues at landfill
sites in Louisiana that received debris from Katrina. Finally, we visited
the Chef Menteur and Old Gentilly landfill sites to observe debris
management activities. Officials of the Federal Emergency Management
Agency, the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, and
the Army Corps of Engineers reviewed sections of the draft report that
applied directly to their agencies. We conducted our work from November
2005 through June 2007 in accordance with generally accepted government
auditing standards.

Appendix II:  Comments from the Environmental Protection Agency

The following are GAO's comments on the Environmental Protection Agency's
letter dated May 9, 2007.

GAO Comments

1.As stated in the draft report, we reviewed the extent to which EPA's
communications on environmental health risks posed by Hurricane Katrina
have provided useful information to the public. In this regard, the issue
with timeliness that we raise focused on EPA's three key environmental
assessment summaries covering its environmental sampling in New Orleans
after the floodwaters had receded. The draft report also addressed the
many other communications on environmental health risks EPA provided to
the public via flyers and health advisories distributed at various
locations throughout the hurricane-damaged areas, public service
announcements made available to the media, and information posted on EPA's
Web page. We recognize that many of these communications preceded the
release of the environmental assessment summaries. Therefore, to address
EPA's concern that the report may be construed as indicating that EPA did
not release information about environmental conditions following Hurricane
Katrina until December 2005, when it released the first assessment
summary, we have added a statement on the Highlights page that "EPA issued
timely information to the public on a variety of environmental health
risks." Also, in the body of the report, we now state that EPA started its
communications efforts shortly after the storm, beginning in September
2005. In addition, EPA suggested we include some information it provided
to FEMA, but we did not because it was not relevant to this report, which
addresses EPA's communications to the public.

2.We do not agree that the draft report created an impression that it was
EPA's role to determine if it was safe for residents to return to their
homes. The draft report stated that "EPA worked with other federal and
state agencies to support local officials evaluating home and neighborhood
safety."

3.We disagree with EPA's statement that the draft report did not recognize
that EPA worked with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and
other federal and state agencies in the development of the environmental
assessment summaries. The draft report explicitly stated in several
places, starting with the Results in Brief section and again in the body
of the report, that EPA worked with the Louisiana Department of
Environmental Quality and others in developing the summaries. All of the
other federal and state entities are identified in the body of the draft.
We have, however, added the language used in the Results in Brief section
of the report to the Highlights page.

4.We disagree with EPA's assertion that the draft report suggested that
EPA's sampling program was incomplete. The draft report explicitly stated
that we (1) determined the extent to which EPA's communications on
environmental health risks posed by Hurricane Katrina have provided useful
information to the public and (2) did not evaluate the agency's
environmental risk assessment methodology. In the context of the
usefulness of the communications to the public, the draft report stated
that we believe EPA's assumption (that the results from sediment samples
from streets or other public access areas can be used to accurately
characterize the degree and nature of contamination in New Orleans,
including inside homes and in yards) is important and warrants
highlighting in the environmental assessment summaries for two main
reasons. First, as the draft report stated, environmental contamination
levels inside buildings can potentially be higher than and different from
the contamination levels outside for a variety of reasons, potentially
causing more adverse health effects. Further, as the draft report also
stated, EPA's Science Advisory Board had suggested that EPA conduct some
indoor sampling in New Orleans for this reason. Second, the draft report
stated that to understand the level of assurance that EPA can provide
about the extent to which localized areas of contamination may exist
throughout the city, it is important to know that limiting sediment and
soil sampling to outdoor, public access areas can be problematic. For
example, sediments in streets may be subject to more dispersion than those
that settled in more protected areas, such as on private property close to
residences. Our point is that EPA should have disclosed, and provided its
rationale for, important assumptions such as this in the assessment
summaries themselves.

5.EPA said that the data the agency has collected to date do not support
the statement in the draft report that the environmental contamination
caused by this natural disaster could have both short- and long-term
effects on the health of residents in impacted areas, as well as workers,
volunteers, and wildlife. We believe that it would be premature to
conclude that the environmental contamination caused by Hurricane Katrina
has not and will not cause any short- and long-term public health effects.
Further, EPA has not demonstrated that it has assurance that the
environmental contamination both has not and will not cause any short- and
long-term public health effects.

6.EPA takes issue with the draft's assertion that EPA's August 2006
summary indicates that the data presented in the December 2005 summary
applied to only short-term visits. In fact, the statement that EPA is
questioning is taken directly from its August 2006 summary, which
describes the results of EPA's analysis of 450 samples (termed phase I by
EPA) addressed in its December 2005 summary. The complete statement in
EPA's summary is as follows: "The results of the phase I sampling
indicated that hazardous substances were not detected in the sediments at
levels that would pose an immediate health risk to workers involved in
response activities or to residents returning for a quick assessment of
damage to their homes." Further, the August 2006 summary also states that
the data from the phase I analysis were used to assess "(1) whether
hazardous substances were present in the sediment in residential areas;
and (2) the potential health effects to emergency workers and residents
from short-term exposure [emphasis ours] to any hazardous substances found
in the sediment." EPA's summary of the results of the testing, combined
with its explanation of the goal of this testing, indicates that the data
presented in the December 2005 summary apply to short-term visits.

Moreover, in its comments, EPA appears to question the assessment results
it reported by stating that "both summaries discuss how samples were
compared to both short and long term health criteria." While the summaries
do not "discuss" the health criteria, they do state that the samples were
compared to both "LDEQ Risk Evaluation/Correction Action Program (RECAP)
and EPA's risk criteria based on long-term (30 years) residential exposure
assumptions." EPA appears to be suggesting in its comments that a reader
of the August 2006 summary should independently infer--on the basis of its
reference to technical (and to the general public, arcane) risk
criteria--that the December 2005 analysis also provided assurance that
longer-term exposures would not pose any health risks. However, EPA's
assessment of the initial 450 sediment samples addressed only short-term
visits, according to the agency's August 2006 summary as quoted above. We
believe this example, and EPA's response to it, illustrates the need for
EPA to improve its environmental risk communications, as we are
recommending.

7.We disagree with EPA's statement that the draft report underestimated
the extent of asbestos monitoring. We believe the draft report accurately
presented information about the monitoring conducted by the federal and
state network--the ambient air monitors; some monitoring conducted at some
debris reduction sites; and the monitoring conducted by the Army Corps of
Engineers and its contractors, who are conducting demolitions under
government orders. Further, although the draft report stated that the
Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has told EPA that monitoring
by the Army Corps of Engineers and its contractors has found "little or no
asbestos emissions," it also stated that such air monitoring data from the
Army Corps of Engineers and its contractors do not address potential
asbestos emissions from the privately sponsored demolitions and
renovations by individual homeowners. Since these activities are not
regulated--and emissions control actions such as wetting the material from
before the demolition process through disposal are not required--the
potential for asbestos emissions at these sites is greater than at
regulated sites. Because EPA's air monitors have not been deployed in and
around neighborhoods both where publicly and privately sponsored
demolition and renovation activities are concentrated, the agency's
finding of no measurable amounts of asbestos at its ambient monitoring
sites does not necessarily address the asbestos to which residents,
workers, and volunteers may be exposed in some neighborhoods.

8.EPA said that the draft report was misleading regarding responsibility
for mitigating environmental impacts on national wildlife refuges
following disasters, stating that the decision to remove hazardous
materials from the national wildlife refuges was the responsibility of
FEMA and the Department of the Interior and did not involve EPA. We have
revised the language in the report to clarify the discussion of
responsibilities. In presenting this issue--which we cite as a challenge
EPA faced in addressing the environmental impacts of Hurricane
Katrina--the draft report explained that EPA did not remove hazardous
materials from national wildlife refuges in a timely manner as part of its
response in part because disaster assistance funding generally is not used
for debris cleanups on federal lands. The draft report also explained that
FEMA did not approve the Department of the Interior's request for funding
to clean up this debris because it was on federal lands. The draft report
showed the impact on national wildlife refuges from the 2005 Gulf Coast
hurricanes: Debris that could have been removed in conjunction with EPA
cleanup activities in areas immediately adjacent to refuges was instead
left in place for a year or more, allowing containers holding hazardous
materials to settle into marshlands and begin to corrode and leak. In one
refuge, a fire spread to a 120-acre debris field with propane and other
hazardous material containers, causing explosions that endangered
firefighters. We continue to believe that EPA should be involved in
helping resolve these issues because, under the National Response Plan,
EPA is the chair of the National Response Team, whose duties include
national planning and response coordination for oil and hazardous
materials incidents. We do agree that FEMA, which declined to provide
funding to the Department of the Interior for cleanup after Hurricane
Katrina, and DHS, which coordinates the federal response to disasters
under the National Response Plan, should also take part in planning
efforts to resolve funding issues concerning the removal of hazardous
materials from federal lands following a disaster. Accordingly, we have
modified our recommendation to state that EPA should also work with DHS
and FEMA, as well as with federal land management agencies and the Coast
Guard, 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. Timely
cleanup can lessen the damage to the environment, better protect the
public from exposure to contaminants, and prevent further migration of
hazardous materials to state and local waters and land--and would likely
be more cost-effective.

9.We disagree with EPA's statement that the draft report asserted that EPA
had a limited role in ensuring that states dispose of storm debris
appropriately. Specifically, we stated in the draft that EPA's debris
management role is limited; however, we did not say that EPA had a limited
role in helping states dispose of storm debris appropriately. In fact, our
draft report specifically highlighted EPA's efforts with its partners in
addressing waste segregation, recycling, and landfill operations--the
areas EPA's comments cited as not being recognized in the draft report.
Our finding and recommendation in this area relate to current limitations
in EPA guidance to states on making certain emergency debris disposal
decisions--such as where to locate emergency landfills and the
implications of selecting disposal options that otherwise would not be
acceptable. We note that EPA has agreed to implement our recommendation as
it makes revisions to its disaster debris manual in calendar year 2007.

10.The information EPA provides on its asbestos monitoring activities in
this paragraph was presented and analyzed in the draft report.
Specifically, the draft cited the asbestos monitoring conducted by
demolition contractors using personal sampling pumps and employees wearing
personal monitoring equipment required by the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration. In addition, the draft report cited the Louisiana
Department of Environmental Quality's report to EPA that this monitoring
has found "little or no asbestos emissions." Further, the draft report
discussed reasons we believe additional monitoring is warranted: (1)
Neither ambient nor demolition site monitors have been located in
neighborhoods with substantial demolition and renovation activities, such
as the Ninth Ward; (2) EPA scaled back its ambient monitoring to the
prestorm level and reduced the frequency of sampling--thus EPA's expanded
monitoring covered only the first few months of demolition activities,
when few demolitions were conducted; and (3) many thousands of demolitions
and renovations may occur in the same geographic area and in the same
general time frame--some of which are not subject to the enforcement of
certain asbestos work practice standards, while others are not subject to
the standards at all. The draft report also stated that as of January
2007, about 25,000 homes concentrated in the Orleans and St. Bernard
Parishes were awaiting demolition, and another 80,000 homes that were
flooded in the New Orleans area were not yet included in the demolition
estimates, but many of these homes will likely be demolished. Those not
demolished will likely have to be substantially renovated.

11.This information cited by EPA is background information about asbestos
and EPA's asbestos regulation, which was provided in the draft report.

12.Contrary to EPA's assertion, the draft report did identify the emission
controls required by EPA's no action assurances (in its comments, EPA
refers to these controls as engineering controls). The draft also
discussed the monitoring of air at grinding sites and EPA's rationale for
focusing on these sites rather than demolition sites. We continue to
believe it is appropriate for EPA or the state to conduct monitoring at
both demolition and volume reduction sites. Further, while some emission
controls may be in place at demolitions covered by the no action
assurances, the many demolitions and substantial renovations by individual
homeowners generally are not subject to any of these controls; further,
the debris from these unregulated activities may be transported without
emission controls to construction and demolition landfills.

13.We encourage EPA to expeditiously implement the plan the agency
discusses in its comments to work with state and local officials to
develop further demolition/renovation advisories that can be used
throughout the area to advise individuals to take appropriate precautions.
We note that numerous volunteers of all ages travel to the Gulf Coast to
help with demolitions and renovations, particularly during the summer
months and holiday periods, and they should have clear guidance on
protective measures to take when they are in areas undergoing demolition
or renovation.

14.We urge EPA, in developing a plan for additional air monitoring, to
evaluate the number and location of the air monitors to ensure sufficient
coverage of areas with substantial demolition and renovation activities,
both regulated and unregulated. If air monitors are not appropriately
located in neighborhoods undergoing demolition and renovation, the
monitoring network will not be adequate to ensure that public health is
being protected.

15.Our draft report highlighted EPA's communications activities, which EPA
reiterates in its comments.

16.Our draft report illustrated the need for EPA to revise and organize
existing crisis communication fact sheets and other information to ensure
that accurate and consistent information can be accessed quickly at the
time of response. In its comments, EPA states its intention to do so by
developing and using a resource guide to be completed in early 2008.

17.EPA's comments describe as misleading a statement in the draft report
explaining that EPA did not remove hazardous materials from national
wildlife refuges because disaster assistance funding generally is not used
for debris cleanups on federal lands. We believe this statement is factual
as written and does not imply that EPA was involved in the decision to
remove or not to remove hazardous materials from national wildlife
refuges. Further, the draft report also explained that FEMA did not
approve the Department of the Interior's request for funding to clean up
this debris because it was on federal lands. See comment 8.

18.EPA's comment that EPA and the Coast Guard completed their cleanup work
at the national wildlife refuges "under budget and ahead of schedule" does
not acknowledge the fact that the hazardous materials were left in place
in national wildlife refuges for a year or more before the cleanup was
initiated. During that time, containers holding hazardous materials
settled into marshlands and began to corrode and leak. When the cleanup of
the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge was completed--16 months after
Hurricane Rita--about 2,200 containers potentially filled with hazardous
liquids and gases had been found and removed, along with several thousand
other hazardous waste items, tires, batteries, munitions, and white goods.
At another refuge, a fire spread to a 120-acre debris field with propane
and other hazardous material containers, causing them to explode and
endanger the firefighters. EPA's comments also do not acknowledge that the
delays in removing the debris complicated the cleanup efforts and
increased the cost of removal--or that hurricane response actions to
collect hazardous materials in adjacent areas were halted at federal
boundaries.

19.EPA commented that it consulted with the Louisiana Department of
Environmental Quality regarding landfills. The draft report so indicated.
Further, EPA stated that its staff assisting the state at landfills did
not provide oversight as the draft report indicated but "provided
assistance in a variety of ways." Some of the assistance EPA provided,
such as sending observers to landfills to monitor and report on
activities, constitutes oversight. EPA also said that the operator of the
Gentilly landfill has conducted monitoring of groundwater at the landfill.
We have added this information to the report.

20.EPA said in its comments that it is revising the agency's disaster
debris manual. If the revisions include detailed guidance to states and
local entities on selecting additional landfill sites under emergency
situations, and practices that agencies can adopt to mitigate the
potential environmental impacts of special accommodations to address storm
debris, EPA could help states avoid controversies over landfill sites
selected under emergency conditions and help state and local agencies plan
for accommodations that may be needed to handle hazardous storm debris
after disasters.

21.Our report discusses delays in determining whether EPA or the Army
Corps of Engineers would be responsible for white goods and electronic
waste disposal in Louisiana and Mississippi. Local officials in both
states told us that confusion about EPA's role in disposing of white goods
and electronics waste caused delays in removing and disposing of this
debris. We note that EPA has agreed to clarify the roles of EPA and the
Corps regarding debris disposal activities.

22.Among other things, our report addresses the extent to which EPA has
assurance that public health is protected from asbestos inhalation risks
in New Orleans, and the Highlights page appropriately discusses key
actions by EPA to monitor asbestos after Hurricane Katrina. The body of
the draft report provides more contextual information--that the ambient
air monitors in and around New Orleans used to measure asbestos are also
used to measure other contaminants. The report states that monitors
measure ambient concentrations of the following pollutants: arsenic, lead,
particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon chemicals, and
volatile organic compounds.

23.The introduction and background sections of the draft report provided
information on the roles of EPA, the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of
Engineers, and the Department of Health and Human Services as they relate
to the topic of our review, EPA's hurricane response activities.

24.See comment 6. In addition, rather than stating that EPA's December
2005 risk assessment summary indicated it was generally safe for residents
to return to New Orleans, we revised the report to cite EPA's exact
language in that summary: "the great majority of the data showed that
adverse health effects would not be expected from exposure to sediments
from previously flooded areas."

25.Although EPA questions our statement that the asbestos work practice
standards generally do not apply to individual homeowners, this statement
is accurate as stands. We added wording to the final report regarding the
possible applicability of the work practice standards to volunteer groups.

26.We disagree with EPA's statement that it is inaccurate to say that the
agency is not enforcing some of the work practice standards for certain
residences. Under most circumstances, EPA's asbestos work practices
require the demolition operator to inspect buildings for asbestos and to
remove the asbestos prior to demolition. In letters to the Louisiana and
Mississippi Departments of Environmental Quality, EPA explicitly stated
that its no action assurance letters would "allow [specified] houses to be
demolished without inspection and removal of asbestos prior to
demolition." Our draft report stated that EPA's no action assurance
letters did not extend to some other elements of the asbestos work
practice standards. Finally, we note the purpose of EPA's no action
assurance letters is to provide assurance that it will not enforce certain
legal requirements--as it has done for certain asbestos requirements.

27.EPA's public service announcements and communications, which we
highlighted in the draft report, addressed generic environmental health
risks and guidance. The actions by the public that EPA cites in its
comments (voluntary curbside sorting of household chemicals) may be
related to those communications efforts. However, EPA appears to be making
a link between these communications and actions and the comprehensiveness
of EPA's sampling program--a connection we do not find supportable.

28.EPA questioned the "intended meaning" of the draft report's statement
that "after flooding, mold frequently forms and spreads." This statement
was provided to identify mold as a likely indoor air contaminant in the
discussion of contamination inside New Orleans residences that had been
flooded. The draft then highlighted the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention's conclusion that "the duration and extent of the flooding and
the number of structures flooded made massive mold contamination a
certainty."

29.Key information about EPA's no action assurances was included in our
draft report.

30.We edited the sentence on household hazardous wastes as suggested.

31.In its comments, EPA incorrectly states that we characterized
chlorofluorocarbons as "hazardous." Actually, the draft report said that
electronic waste and white goods frequently contain "potentially hazardous
contaminants, such as lead, mercury, or chlorofluorocarbons...." The final
report refers to these substances simply as "contaminants."

32.The draft report reflected that EPA approved an extension of the no
action assurance through September 30, 2007, for four counties in
Mississippi.

33.Rather than stating that monitors measure ambient concentrations of up
to six contaminants, we have revised the report in response to EPA's
comment to state that the monitors can measure ambient concentrations of
the following potential pollutants and categories of pollutants from local
and regional sources: arsenic, asbestos, lead, particulate matter,
polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon chemicals, and volatile organic compounds.

34.EPA disagreed with the statement that EPA "delegated the authority" to
states to implement and enforce the asbestos standard, asserting instead
that EPA "authorizes" the programs. According to 40 C.F.R. S 61.04(c), EPA
"delegates" the relevant authority to states. Nevertheless, the Clean Air
Act uses the term "approve," and we revised the report as EPA suggested.
We express no view concerning the apparent conflict between EPA's comments
and the agency's decision to employ the term "delegate" in its
regulations.

35.We revised our footnote defining regulated asbestos-containing
materials to quote the regulations verbatim as EPA recommended.

36.We added the regulatory citation to the footnote as EPA suggested.

37.We state that the demolition owner or operator "generally" must notify
EPA, which encompasses the contingency EPA notes here.

38.Our draft report stated that specified wetting and notification
requirements still apply to demolition operations in which the building is
structurally unsound and in danger of imminent collapse.

39.We made the editorial change EPA suggested for clarity.

40.We made the recommended revision to the footnote that specifies EPA's
asbestos screening level.

41.The draft report stated that Louisiana chose not to use the October
2005 no action assurance, which authorized, among other things, a test of
an open burn technology for disposing of construction and demolition
debris.

42.EPA said that the agency wanted to clarify the purpose of the Fort
Smith research project. We believe the draft report clearly stated the
purpose of this pilot. For example, the second sentence of the short
paragraph describing the Fort Smith project identified the purpose of this
research project. Further, the draft report stated that "EPA officials
said that any monitoring of asbestos emissions at demolition sites in New
Orleans would not need to be as elaborate as that done for the pilot which
was conducted to develop data for potential use in a revision to EPA's
asbestos regulation."

43.The draft report provided information on EPA's asbestos monitoring
efforts and on monitoring data from the Army Corps of Engineers.

44.The draft report referred to EPA's environmental assessment summaries
as "EPA's primary communications about the health risks from exposure to
contamination in New Orleans." EPA disagreed that these summaries
represented its primary communications, referring to the other health risk
communications--which the draft report also discussed. To address EPA's
concern, we have revised the draft, describing the assessment summaries as
key  health risk communications because they are significant in that they
provide EPA's analyses of its sediment sampling efforts in New Orleans.

45.As suggested, we replaced the term "sanitary engineers" with
"environmental scientists and engineers."

46.The draft report identified the primary subtitle D responsibilities of
states that EPA cited in its comments. As suggested, we clarified that
EPA's enforcement authority is limited.

47.EPA proposed several deletions from the paragraph on the Agriculture
Street Landfill. In response, we have replaced "concerns about cancer"
with "health concerns." However, we did not delete "debris from destroyed
buildings and ash from municipal incinerators" because EPA's comments
conflict with EPA documentation that we obtained during our review.

48.We made the suggested deletion.

49.We made the suggested clarification in the footnote.

50.We revised the draft to reflect that EPA provided technical support and
undertook some oversight activities at New Orleans landfills because some
of the activities involved overseeing and reporting on landfill
operations.

51.EPA provided information on guidance the agency issued in Mississippi
on management practices for white goods. However, the implementation of
the procedures was problematic, as indicated by the comments of
Mississippi county officials cited in the draft report.

52.Our finding and recommendation regarding problems with the disposition
of electronic waste focused on the issues Louisiana and Mississippi
officials described to us--these problems occurred in the weeks
immediately after the storm because of confusion regarding the roles of
EPA and the Corps. We did not identify problems after EPA and the Corps
defined their responsibilities. Therefore, we did not report on all
electronics recycling activities, such as the activities EPA says were
omitted from the report.

53.We revised the sentence to more clearly separate the land management
agencies referred to from the other agencies cited (EPA and the Coast
Guard).

Appendix III:  GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments

GAO Contact

John B. Stephenson, (202) 512-3841 or [email protected]

Staff Acknowledgments

In addition to the contact named above, Christine Fishkin, Assistant
Director; Joanna Owusu; Kirk Menard; Nancy Crothers; Richard Johnson;
Karen Keegan; and Omari Norman made key contributions to this report.
Jessica Lemke and Hilary Sloan also made important contributions to this
report.

(360648)

www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-07-651 .

To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.

For more information, contact John Stephenson at (202) 512-3841 or
[email protected]

Highlights of [33]GAO-07-651 , a report to congressional committees

June 2007

HURRICANE KATRINA

EPA's Current and Future Environmental Protection Efforts Could Be
Enhanced by Addressing Issues and Challenges Faced on the Gulf Coast

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.

[34]What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that EPA develop an asbestos air monitoring plan for New
Orleans, improve its communications on environmental risks for future
disasters, and take steps to address several challenges EPA has faced. EPA
agreed with all but one recommendation, commenting that other agencies
should address the challenge of obtaining timely funding for the removal
of hazardous materials from federal lands after disasters. GAO modified
its recommendation to include additional relevant agencies with which EPA
should work to address the problem GAO identified.

Under challenging circumstances, EPA worked with federal and state
partners to respond to chemical and oil spills, collect abandoned chemical
containers, coordinate recycling of damaged appliances, and collect and
recycle electronic waste. EPA also conducted air, water, sediment, and
soil sampling; helped assess drinking water and wastewater
infrastructures; and issued timely information to the public on a variety
of environmental health risks.

However, as cleanup continues, EPA's assurance that public health is
protected from risks associated with inhalation of asbestos fibers is
limited because the agency has not deployed air monitors in and around New
Orleans neighborhoods where demolition and renovation activities are
concentrated. While EPA took steps to monitor asbestos after the hurricane
--for example, more than doubling the number of ambient (outdoor) air
monitors and monitoring emissions at debris reduction sites--monitors were
not placed in areas undergoing substantial demolition and renovation, such
as the Ninth Ward. This is problematic because monitors effectively detect
releases of asbestos from demolition activities only if they are located
immediately adjacent to demolition sites. Further, many thousands of homes
being demolished and renovated by or for individual homeowners are
generally not subject to EPA's asbestos emissions standards aimed at
limiting releases of fibers into the air.

While EPA provided useful environmental health risk information to the
public via flyers, public service announcements, and the EPA Web page, the
communications were at times unclear and inconsistent on how to mitigate
exposure to some contaminants, particularly asbestos and mold. Further,
the usefulness of three key reports on EPA's environmental sampling in New
Orleans--developed with, among others, the Louisiana Department of
Environmental Quality to address potential health risks from exposure to
floodwaters, sediments, and air--was limited by a lack of timeliness and
insufficient disclosures about EPA's sampling program. For example, EPA
did not state until August 2006 that its December 2005 report--which said
that the great majority of the data showed that adverse health effects
would not be expected from exposure to sediments from previously flooded
areas--applied to short-term visits, such as to view damage to homes.

Mitigating several challenges EPA faces addressing Hurricane Katrina could
better protect the environment in the future. First, EPA did not remove
hazardous materials from national wildlife refuges in a timely manner as
part of its response in part because disaster assistance funding generally
is not used for debris cleanups on federal lands. Second, because states
generally have authority over landfill decisions, EPA does not have an
effective role in emergency debris disposal decisions that could cause
pollution. Finally, lack of clarity in federal debris management plans and
protocols precluded the timely and safe disposal of some appliances and
electronic waste.

References

Visible links
  33. file:///home/webmaster/infomgt/d07651.htm#http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-07-651
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