Moving Forward

Although years have passed since Hurricane Katrina brought disaster and death to the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, those who lived and worked there when this catastrophic event took place are still dealing with the threat of asbestos exposure and its potential side effects. Irreparable structures now stand throughout city as ghostly reminders of the destruction resulting from this catastrophic hurricane. Considering Hurricane Katrina’s costliness to the nation, it remains no surprise to learn that the city has yet to remove all of its destroyed and contaminated structures.

Asbestos Abatement Challenges

Asbestos abatement is a never a simple issue to address. Federal asbestos regulations do not typically apply to individual homeowners. Each state generally has its own authority to determine the best asbestos programs. Guidelines provided by the Environmental Protection Agency are aimed at minimizing potential toxic exposure. Due to the lack of regulations for the removal of asbestos, combined with the hazards associated with certain controlled burns and demolition methods, fears about potential asbestos exposure in New Orleans have not even come close to subsiding.

New Orleans Abatement

Recently, the EPA decided that the most cost effective and least hazardous way to rid New Orleans of its demolished, contaminated houses is to incinerate them while closely monitoring the atmosphere for toxic asbestos levels. Legally, asbestos abatement should take place prior to burning a contaminated building. However, with the high number of irreparable structures left in New Orleans, few other suitable options remain. The EPA also claims this method is best, as laboratory tests have indicated that burning asbestos at high temperatures causes the dangerous mineral to morph into a harmless substance.

Approval of this method is dependent upon an asbestos abatement waiver being passed for the Saint Bernard Parish, where 5,000 homes contaminated with asbestos are located. In the absence of such a waiver extension, the asbestos-containing materials would have to be removed prior to demolishing the homes. In February 2008, Craig Taffaro, Parish President, stated at a council meeting that the recovery of New Orleans would be crippled if such an extension is not granted. In February 2007, the New Orleans City Council approved an ordinance allowing the city to demolish any structure regarded as a health threat. The city is now hopeful that such efforts will reduce future threats of asbestos exposure to the public. However, the full effects from the Hurricane Katrina aftermath are yet to be determined, as the latency period of asbestos disease development is extremely lengthy.


City of New Orleans

The Times-Picayune