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Soil Contamination

Additional information regarding these questions can be found by downloading this PDF document:
Jefferson, Orleans Soil Contamination May Not Be As Serious As Feared
(28KB PDF)


How contaminated is the soil in Jefferson and Orleans parishes as a result of flooding from Hurricane Katrina?

LSU AgCenter experts say soil contamination in Jefferson and Orleans parishes from flooding after this summer’s hurricanes may not be as serious as originally feared. Initial results of tests conducted in October indicate no need for special preparations to the soils prior to planting and that there should be no danger for individuals digging or planting in the soil.

The LSU AgCenter scientists and extension educators collected soil and sediment samples from five areas -- Kenner, Lake View, City Park, Mid-City and Old Metairie -- on Oct. 4.

Preliminary findings indicate that the soil salinity in all areas is at or below levels acceptable for even low-tolerance plants. The LSU AgCenter team also looked at levels of heavy metals, such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, nickel, zinc and mercury, in the samples. The test results also found the levels of those materials in the soil samples were within normal soil levels.

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What was the soil and sediment salinity level after flood waters receded?

Preliminary findings indicate that the soil salinity in all areas tested (Kenner, Lake View, City Park, Mid-City and Old Metairie) is at or below levels acceptable for even low-tolerance plants.

Soil salinity typically is expressed as electrical conductivity of a solution extracted from the soil at water saturation and is usually reported in millimhos per centimeter (mmhos/cm) or decisiemens per meter (dS/m), according to the experts. Using the decisiemens per meter as the measurement, LSU AgCenter tests of the soil samples taken in October showed most of the areas came in at less than 2 dS/m. Soil salinity values were slightly higher in the Mid-City and Lake View areas, but, at 2 dS/m to 4 dS/m those generally still should not cause problems.

Some sediments deposited by flood waters were found to have high salt levels. In the Lake View area, sediments were found to be high in salinity – up to 16 dS/m. But heavy metal concentrations were found to be at or below average for most soils.

Residents in areas with a heavy accumulation of sediment should carefully remove the sediment from lawns and planting beds.

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Should I be concerned about pollutants in the sediments left after the hurricane flooding?

Although levels of pollutants in the sediment do not appear to pose any serious health risk, the Environmental Protections Agency (EPA) recommends wearing proper protective equipment, such as gloves and safety glasses, when handling this sediment. The EPA also recommended washing with soap and water following exposure, just to be sure.

The EPA has published analysis from sediment testing in most all areas that were flooded in New Orleans. It can be found at http://www.epa.gov/katrina/index.html.

LSU AgCenter experts say extensive soil testing doesn’t appear to be necessary as people return to their homes and try to reestablish their landscapes. But, individuals who would like to have their soil tested may contact the LSU AgCenter Extension office in their parish for instructions on how to collect and submit samples for analysis – as well as information on the types of tests that are performed.

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