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September 15, 2005
'Toxic' Flood Another Example Of Katrina Hysteria

The Washington Post debunks another part of the media hysteria that has surrounded the Hurricane Katrina devastation -- the myth of the supertoxic flood. We have heard over and over how the raw sewage and chemical brew unleashed by the levee break made the flood so toxic that mere skin exposure put people at extraordinary risk for major illnesses. Test, however, show nothing unusual about the flood water:

Early tests on the floodwater that covered most of this city do not suggest it will leave a permanent toxic residue or render residential areas uninhabitable for more than a short time, officials of both state and federal environmental agencies said yesterday.

The pollution consists primarily of fecal matter and slightly elevated concentrations of metals such as lead and chromium that were in the city's soil before Hurricane Katrina. There are also trace amounts of many petroleum-based chemicals and some pesticides.

Despite descriptions of the floodwater as a "toxic soup" and a "witch's brew" of contaminants, the preliminary tests reveal it contains little that is different from what has been seen after past floods in other cities and here.

The only exceptions to this come from localized contamination that will require spot abatements. Seven oil spills, including a significant one in the suburb of Mereaux, account for most of that damage. Another could well be the bus storage yard, where diesel fuel from the buses left a surface plume easily seen with overhead photography -- another good reason to get them to high ground in the face of a Category 4 hurricane bearing down on the city.

Other than the localized points, the water from the flood poses no special threat. The main problem for residents will not arise from a toxic exposure or contamination of buildings, but instead merely from the damage done by the water itself to the buildings. That, of course, will provide enough problems of its own without adding the media hysteria of Katrina coverage to the dread New Orleans residents face in getting their city back on its feet.

How did the "toxic soup" story start, anyway? So far we have heard ridiculous stories pushed over and over again by the national media that sounded just good enough to be true. The floods supposedly killed 10,000 people; now it looks like the casualties might not reach 1,000, still devastating but a completely different scale. Survivors supposedly resorted to cannibalism of corpses, according to civil-rights activist Randall Robinson, who later withdrew the story after the media spread it like wildfire.

Plenty of people want some accountability for government officials for their miscues during the response to Katrina. The Exempt Media has led that charge. If they want to see that, we should also demand an independent commission into the reporting that crossed over into hysteria and mythology, spreading falsehoods that unnecessarily have added to the burdens of Katrina victims from New Orleans.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 15, 2005 5:19 AM

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