Chemist finds high level of arsenic in Katrina’s wake

Published 6:07 pm Tuesday, August 1, 2006

A chemist said soil samples taken in the wakes of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita show dangerously high levels of arsenic in some areas along the coast.

Wilma Subra believes arsenic, other heavy metals and bacteria in the soils of coastal areas battered by hurricanes last year are causing residents to become sick with unexplained illnesses.

“It gets kicked up in the air so you can inhale it, ingest it and you can come in contact with it,” she said. “If you walked through it, once it started drying, it would scoop up into the air.”

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Some members of the public who attended the meeting, which was organized by the Outreach of Love, said they or family members are suffering from unexplained health problems.

Subra said she came to work along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, and has taken soil samples in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Alabama. She said 90 percent of the samples have exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for arsenic.

She found the highest levels in Mississippi at Moss Point, Gulfport and Pearlington where arsenic is at levels 27 times beyond what the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality considers safe.

Subra said the arsenic built up in the Gulf Coast’s riverbeds and was spread by the hurricanes. After the storm surge receded, many residents found the ground covered with a toxic sludge.

“It looked like when your mom would make a chocolate cake,” she said.

Subra contends the sludge should have been removed and will now be even more difficult to dispose of. She claimed health problems such as skin allergies, infections or respiratory problems that do not respond to antibiotic treatment can be caused by the toxic sludge, which also contains petroleum products stored in houses that were destroyed.