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There was a lot of talk about the “toxic soup” that filled New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, but now the first peer-reviewed scientific assessment says it was just that–talk. The flood water in New Orleans was no worse than ordinary, except in volume, according to a paper in the current issue of Environmental Science & Technology:

“What we had in New Orleans was basically a year’s worth of storm water flowing through the city in only a few days,” says study leader John Pardue, Ph.D., an environmental engineer and director of the Louisiana Water Resources Research Institute at LSU in Baton Rouge. “We still don’t think the floodwaters were safe, but it could have been a lot worse. It was not the chemical catastrophe some had expected.”
The most unsafe aspects of the water were high levels of bacteria and viruses and not exposure to chemicals. Gasoline was also a significant component of the water, somewhat elevated compared to normal. So the water was nothing great to slosh around in, but apparently it won’t do anyone any long-term harm, even after it soaks into the ground.

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