SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 11 - Despite the tragic human and economic toll from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita along the Gulf Coast in 2005, the much-discussed "toxic-soup" environmental pollution was nowhere close to being as bad as people thought.
That's the bottom-line message from dozens of scientific papers scheduled for presentation at a four-day symposium that opened here today at the American Chemical Society's national meeting, according to symposium organizer Ruth A. Hathaway. Entitled "Recovery From and Prevention of Natural Disasters," it is one of the key themes for the meeting, which runs through Sept. 14.
James Lee Witt, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), will deliver the keynote address on September 14. Witt, now CEO of James Lee Witt Associates, LLC, headed FEMA during the Administration of President Bill Clinton.
"As I look at the presentations in this symposium, that's perhaps the most striking message," Hathaway said in an interview. "The dust has settled now and all the hoopla is over. We've actually had a chance to look at the real-world data from New Orleans. All indications at this point are that the hurricanes were not as devastating in stirring up chemicals as once feared.
"The data shows that there is no real need to ban fish consumption, for instance. Levels of some toxic metals are high in parts of New Orleans, but not generally higher than before Hurricane Katrina or in some other urban areas.
Hathaway, of Hathaway Consulting in Cape Girardeau, Mo., is an organizer of the symposium, which includes 37 presentations on hurricanes, tornadoes and other disasters. Speakers range from chemists who analyzed levels of toxic metals in New Orleans to ecologists studying environmental consequences of Katrina's storm surge to academics reporting on damage and recovery of universities in the Gulf disaster zone.
In one report, Michael T. Abel, Ph.D., of Texas Tech