Soil sample results from St. Bernard Parish released by community groups

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(Baton Rouge) Heavy metals and gas and diesel compounds were among the chemicals detected in St. Bernard Parish, according to results released last night by two community groups that have been testing soil in the parish. "What’s going to happen to us ­ are we going to get sick from going in and breathing all that?" asked Joy Lewis of the St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality. Her concerns were echoed by the 85 residents in attendance who repeatedly expressed fears about their health and exposure to toxic chemicals.

Arsenic, cadmium and various benzene compounds were among the chemicals detected at levels that exceed EPA and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) standards. The organizations financed fourteen soil samples at locations determined by St. Bernard Parish residents. The soil was put through five different types of analysis for hundreds of different compounds.

Our Lady of Prompt Succor Catholic Church, C.F. Rowley Elementary School and the neighborhood near the Murphy Oil spill were among the sites tested. Heavy metals were found in the soil on the school’s playground. "Kids are always playing in the dirt and putting their hands in their mouths," said Anne Rolfes, Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. "Why aren’t our government agencies talking about these risks?" The Louisiana Bucket Brigade paid $20,000 for the soil sampling project.

Wilma Subra, a chemist and McArthur fellow who lives in New Iberia, put the results from the laboratories into a form that was easy for the residents to understand. Her presentation was made during a Tuesday night meeting at a Baton Rouge hotel in which the electricity went off. People gathered outside in the dark to learn the sampling results.

Among those present at the meeting were Karen Gautreaux, Assistant Secretary of DEQ, and St. Bernard Parish Councilman Craig Taffaro.

The meeting began with a request for a show of hands from people who had received information about the environment from DEQ or EPA. Not a single hand was raised. "We are paying our taxes," said Ms. Lewis. "It is time for these agencies to do their job".

The complete results as well as Ms. Subra’s interpretation of the results can be found at

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