La. eco-group slams official silence on toxins in New Orleans suburbs

The soil in two New Orleans suburbs may be highly contaminated with heavy metals and petroleum products, charge residents. They say local and federal officials aren’t warning returning residents about toxic hazards or cleaning up the mess. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade paid a certified testing company to assess soil samples taken during September from towns in St. Bernard Parish, east of the Big Easy. Parts of the parish were covered in muddy gunk by post-Hurricane Katrina flooding; some areas were also hit by a spill of 25,000 barrels of petroleum products from the nearby Murphy Oil refinery. The tests indicated that soil at one school playground contained a benzene compound — a petroleum byproduct — at levels 33 times greater than the U.S. EPA’s standards; arsenic levels at two sites inundated by the Murphy oil spill were 29 times higher than Louisiana environmental standards. The EPA and parish officials are dismissing the Bucket Brigade’s criticism, saying that EPA testing so far shows no reason to worry.