The 2005 Category 5 Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans by breaching surge protection levees surrounding the city, resulting in 80% of the city being flooded for weeks. An interesting positive result of this disastrous force of nature is that research shows lead levels being drastically reduced. Lead levels in soil, and children’s blood were measured before and 10 years after Hurricane Katrina. Prior to Katrina, children living in high-lead areas with blood lead levels of 5 mgs or more per deciliter registered at 64%. Ten years later, it had fallen to 19%. Lead in city soil dropped nearly 53% (mg/km). Tulane University School of Medicine professor Howard Mielke says three factors can account for the drastic decrease in lead levels post-Katrina. The vast flooding deposited varying depths of low lead sediment from the coastal environment. Houses were cleaned out and damaged material with lead-based paint were removed or repainted with non-toxic paint. And lastly, new construction projects had uncontaminated soil brought in from outside the city.
“If we figure out how to solve the problem for New Orleans, we’ll have a model that other cities can follow.” – Howard Mielke