Lead Contamination Widespread Post-Katrina, says Tulane University Study

November 14, 2011

Keith Brannon
Phone: 504-862-8789

More than 60 percent of homes sampled across New Orleans had lead levels exceeding federal standards, according to a new Tulane study.

The post-Katrina dip in lead contamination in New Orleans was short-lived, according to a new Tulane University study that found more than 60 percent of homes sampled across the city had lead levels exceeding federal standards.

The findings show that children in the city are at substantial risk for environmental lead exposure in and around their homes, said lead author Felicia Rabito, associate professor of epidemiology at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

“Parents should have their children screened for lead,” Rabito said. “Our findings indicate that lead contamination – particularly soil contamination – is prevalent and has significant public health implications for residents, especially children.”

The study, which tested indoor dust and yard soil from occupied homes in 2007 and 2008, is the first to examine lead levels in the city well into the post-Katrina recovery. The study found that the median soil lead level for the sampled homes was 37 percent higher than for samples collected in a 1998-2000 lead survey.

Others studies, based on soil samples taken immediately after the storm and in 2006, indicated a sharp decline in lead levels as flood waters covered neighborhoods with new sediment. But authors speculate that the Katrina demolition and rebuilding boom – which largely involved homes and business built before 1950 – likely kicked up new lead dust, primarily from lead-based paint. Although city ordinances require renovators to take steps to mitigate lead, there was little enforcement or oversight, resulting in widespread sanding of homes during renovation, Rabito said.

Authors were surprised to find that the lead contamination was so widespread, equally affecting both higher-income and low-income neighborhoods. Prior studies have shown higher lead content primarily in lower-income neighborhoods with older, less-maintained housing.

The study, which appears in the Nov. 3 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, is co-authored by Tulane public health researchers Shahed Iqbal, Sara Perry, Whitney Arroyave and Janet Rice. It is available online here.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000