Mississippi Flood Damages Homes, Poses Later Asbestos Risk

Earlier last week flood waters swamped low-lying neighborhoods in Memphis, Tennessee, and despite the desperate attempts to reinforce the structure, this flooding resulted in water swelling over a 100-year old levee in Bunche’s Bend, Louisiana. Unfortunately, this is not the last of such effects all the recent flooding will have on the United States. In a recently published article by CBS News reports the overcoming of the levee in Bunche’s Bend could cause the Coast Guard to close the Port of New Orleans, “halting traffic on one of the world’s busiest commercial waterways.” CBS is also reporting that the Corps of Engineers is considering opening the Morganza spillway, consequently flooding thousands of homes and acreage located on a 100-mile stretch in Louisiana. It is stated that doing so would “take the pressure off levees and help to protect Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and the oil refineries in between.” CBS states a decision on the matter is expected to be announced soon. Yesterday, the crest of the Mississippi reached Vicksburg, Mississippi at 57.1 feet. The New York Times notes these levels have “set a record by a healthy margin,” and that “the damage has already been extensive, and the waters have proved deadly.” The New York Times has also reported more than one million sandbags have been filled and stacked in Louisiana, and the Red Cross is standing by, prepared to open 22 shelters. CBS interviewed spokesman for the Port of New Orleans, Chris Bonura, who claims that the Coast Guard plans to close a 190-mile stretch of river from Baton Rouge to the Gulf of Mexico once the water reaches the 18-foot level measured at a gauge located in Carrollton. While some ships would be diverted to other ports, “the mouth of the Mississippi would become a parking lot.” CBS reports that “about 600 homes in the Mississippi Delta have flooded in the past several days as the water has risen toward some of the highest levels on record.” The article also states that “in Mississippi alone, floodwaters have destroyed at least 800 homes.” High-water records standing since the 1920s and ‘30s have been broken; with CBS News stating the crest should reach New Orleans on May 23. CBS claims that “even after the peak passes, water levels will remain high for weeks, and it could take months for the flooded homes to dry out.” Unfortunately, once the waters recede the flood damage could raise other issues and health concerns, one of which being possible asbestos exposure. The article in the Times warns against those impatient to return to their homes, “officials worried that residents…would try to come back sooner than they should. The emergency, they insisted, is continuing.” New Orleans and other areas along the Gulf Coast ravaged by Hurricane Katrina came under scrutiny for potential asbestos exposure during demolition and clean-up efforts. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report highlighting such concerns. The report stated that, “in 2005, Hurricane Katrina’s impact on the Gulf Coast included damage to the environment from chemical and hazardous materials releases. Also, the wide spread demolition and renovation activities still underway in New Orleans may release asbestos fibers into the air, posing a potential additional health risk.” The Times article estimates that the river will remain at elevated levels for at least a week, and not go below flood levels for several weeks. This could mean that homes all across the affected areas will continue to sustain damages in which structures and building materials come apart or are otherwise weakened. The Times states “agricultural officials have estimated that 1.2 million acres will be inundated.” As the EPA has recognized that many of the homes constructed in the 1930s through the 1970s were built with asbestos containing products, it can be assumed that damages from the flooding, comparable to those after Hurricane Katrina, could pose similar threats across Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Regrettably, until these flood waters have receded and clean up efforts initiated, the extent of such damages and potential environmental hazards remain unknown. References: U.S. Government Accountability Office Associated Press. (May 12, 2011). “Mississippi Floods Swamp 12,000 Acres of Crops.” Retrieved on May 20, 2011 from CBS News. Robertson, Campbell and Severson, Kim. (May 20, 2011). “A River’s Crest Arrives, and Is Set to Linger.” Retrieved on May 20, 2011 from New York Times. Previous: Asbestos Group Hires Former Tobacco PR Agency to Defend Material Next: Promising Mesothelioma Chemo Drug Fails Phase III Trial