This video report examines the landfill situation in New Orleans three years following Hurricane Katrina that struck in 2005. The massive storm created such destruction that entire neighborhoods had to be torn down and rebuilt. Much of the 62 million cubic yards of debris was taken to two landfills.
Due to the emergency nature of the event and the sheer amount of waste, the government loosened the environmental requirements for the landfills, including not providing a synthetic liner between the waste and the ground.
Much of the debris contains electronic waste, medical waste, chemicals from homes and old furniture and construction materials that emit toxic gases and chemicals as they decay.
Environmentalists say the potential for leaks into the ground water is great while the New Orleans government counters that safety monitoring systems have shown no detrimental impact.
“There isn’t an engineer in the country who would tell you that throwing stuff that is toxic and that is hazardous into a landfill without a liner on Louisiana wetland soils isn’t risky.” - Oliver Houck, environmental law professor at Tulane University Law School
“There isn’t anybody who can come in and count the number of deaths that are going to come out of this landfill or the number of sicknesses or illnesses or people with chronic this or chronic that. Nobody can make that tally, but why run that risk?” - Oliver Houck, environmental law professor at Tulane University Law School
“What we have here, we have 11 groundwater monitoring wells, just to make sure we monitor the groundwater at the site, you know, before it leaves the landfill area…We have had two years of data, groundwater-monitoring data. We don’t see any difference.” - Bijan Shrafkhani, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality
WARM UP QUESTIONS:
Where does your garbage go? What can garbage do to the water you drink, air you breathe and land you live on? How do cities and governments keep garbage from harming the environment? What kind of waste would be created if you had to tear down your home and rebuild it from scratch?
How did this report make you feel? Did you come away from this report believing the man in charge of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality or the environmental activists? Why?
How do you balance the need to dispose of massive amounts of debris following an emergency event like Hurricane Katrina with the need to have safe ground water and a clean environment in the future?
Further research: Where does your community dispose of toxic debris like the items mentioned in the video segment? Are these areas close to any residential communities? Can you imagine a solution for the landfill problem in New Orleans? What would you do?
Transcript of the report
In-depth Coverage: Rebuilding the Gulf Coast
Audio Slide Show: Betty Ann Bowser Discusses New Orleans’ Illegal Landfills
Video: Watch Extended Interviews With Environmental Officials and Community Leaders in New Orleans on the Landfills Problem
NewsHour Extra: Families in Katrina Temporary Housing Face Health Problems