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It was their fear and they had a name for it: toxic gumbo. It seemed fitting as officials braced for Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

What would be left in the water and soil after Katrina’s storm surge flooded New Orleans, a city known for its Cajun cuisine but also home to petrochemical plants, refineries and EPA Superfund sites?

“That very word was used, toxic gumbo, and there certainly were issues,” said Danny Reible, an environmental researcher at the University of Texas.

And yet, after studying the results of tests run on floodwater, soil and sediment, Reible wrote in a research article that “By and large…the environmental problems in the city are not significantly different now from environmental conditions before Hurricane Katrina.”

Patrick Louchouarn at Texas A&M at Galveston studies what risk Superfund sites pose to the ecosystem

Reible wrote that EPA teams “concluded that inorganic and organic chemical concentrations in the floodwaters were generally below levels of concern for short-term” skin contact and even “incidental ingestion.”

Not that there weren’t problems. In one neighborhood, 1,700 homes were “oiled” when over a million gallons of crude escaped after Katrina lifted and ruptured the big tank at an oil refinery. Crews were able to recover a good portion of the oil according to the EPA.

A Researcher’s Worst Nightmare

But what about the long-term impact of a big storm on the Texas coast with all its chemical plants, refineries and toxic waste sites? It worries Patrick Louchouarn, a scientist at Texas A&M at Galveston.

“My worst nightmare is the release of these contaminants that right now tend to be sequestered in environments that are not too mobile,” Louchouarn told StateImpact.

This article was reposted with the permission of Dave Fehling/StateImpact Texas/NPR

Listen to Audio of Interview Here:


StateImpact Texas is a collaboration of local public radio stations KUT Austin, KUHF Houston and NPR. Reporters Mose Buchele, Terrence Henry and Dave Fehling travel the state to report on how energy and environmental issues affect you. Read their reports and listen to them on NPR member stations.


After Hurricane Ike the Center for Health Disparities at the University of Texas Medical Branch did a study on the soil, which had been affected by the storm run off. What they found provides profound evidence of the real costs of clean up and the potential effects on public health.  Take a look at this report and then think about the effect of a massive surge moving up the bay into the Oil Refineries, Chemical Plants and Port of Houston.


This report provided by Center to Eliminate Health Disparities in the Division of Health Policy and Legislative Affairs at UTMB

 Special Thanks to:

Alexandra (Lexi) B. Nolen, PhD, MPH

Director, Center to Eliminate Health Disparities in the Division of Health Policy and Legislative Affairs

Associate Executive Director, Coordinating Center for Global Health

John Sullivan, MA


The late Matthew Stanford of St. Vincent's House

Michael Jackson, Executive Director of St. Vincent's House


What is the Price of Doing Nothing?

 Toxic Surge Results:

The Toxic Risk When Hurricanes Hit the Texas Chemical Coast

by Dave Fehling/StateImpact Texas and NPR