Children’s Lead Levels in New Orleans Reduced by Hurricane Katrina

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New research from Tulane University is shedding a positive light on hurricanes Katrina and Rita. According to the study, as the two hurricanes flooded New Orleans they seem to have buried lead-contaminated soil, leading to a significant decrease in children’s lead poisoning. This is great news for a city seemingly only filled with bad news lately, because in the past New Orleans has been classified as one of the most lead-polluted cities in the country. The new study found that almost all neighborhoods saw soil lead levels fall by about 50 percent. Before the hurricanes, 15 of 46 neighborhoods exceeded the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality‘s standards. Now only 6 neighborhoods registered too high.

The level of lead in children’s blood also decreased. After hurricane Katrina and Rita, blood lead levels in kids under 6 years old fell by 33 percent. A 2005 (pre-Katrina/Rita) Center for Disease Control (CDC) study found elevated lead levels in the blood of 42 percent of kids under 6 years old living in poverty in New Orleans. Across the country, 4 percent of children have lead poisoning. Blood lead levels in children are typically higher in urban areas and low-income populations.

Researchers believe that the hurricane flooding washed unpolluted sediment into the city from the coastal wetlands and Lake Pontchartrain. The new soil, which is much cleaner than the city soil, then blanketed the previously contaminated dirt. Unfortunately, the new sediment in New Orleans wasn’t all good news — even though it lead to decreased lead levels, it caused an increase in arsenic levels.

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