Officials try to get grip on post-Katrina environmental problems

Multiple environmental crises loom in Hurricane Katrina’s wake. New Orleans floodwaters are diluting sewage, chemical, and fuel contaminants right now, but these substances are likely to concentrate and deposit as the waters drain. Some parts of the city may become de facto brownfields, so soaked in toxic crud that they’ll be unfit for rebuilding. Then there’s all the nontoxic waste and debris generated by the storm — Louisiana officials are so far at a loss for where they’ll landfill it. Ecological damage to the Gulf Coast is also being assessed — Louisiana’s Chandeleur Islands, a national bird refuge, are inundated, and islands off the Biloxi coast were scoured and breached by Katrina’s storm surge. Unchecked erosion along the Louisiana coast amplified the scope of Katrina’s damage, say some experts; they argue that there’s now a great opportunity to redevelop the coastlines carefully, avoiding past mistakes.