Louisiana faces massive trash and toxics cleanups

New Orleans’ ecological recovery is likely to be both complex and lengthy. State environmental officials say Hurricane Katrina left around 22 million tons of debris in southeast Louisiana, 12 million of it in Orleans Parish. The ginormous load of trash ranges from organics like downed trees and rotting food to about 60,000 boats and 350,000 cars. Louisiana oil refineries, pipelines, and storage facilities wrecked by Katrina spilled millions of gallons of oil, and it’ll take months to clean up the mess. One 1.5-million-gallon spill from a refinery in a neighborhood southeast of New Orleans contaminated about 1,000 homes. And overall ecological damage — to marshes, fishing grounds, urban environments, and more — is so massive, some observers say it’ll take years to assess and repair. Says Harry Roberts, director of the Louisiana State University’s Coastal Studies Institute, “This is an unprecedented event in terms of devastation and scale.”