In November 2005 the Natural Resource Defense Council evaluated the contamination of sediment samples from two sites on Aberdeen Road in New Orleans, LA. This analysis was conducted for a project of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ) and United Steelworkers (USW) called A Safe Way Back Home. The sediment samples were taken by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Analysis of the samples showed that all but one contained at least one chemical at a higher concentration than the Louisiana Risk Evaluation Corrective Action Program (RECAP) screening levels for residential soil.
Chemicals exceeding RECAP standards included:

  • heavy metals (arsenic, zinc, barium, cadmium);
  • diesel range organics; and
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (benzo[a]pyrene and benzo[b]fluoranthene).

These results, when compared to other US EPA data from across the city of New Orleans, appear typical of post-Katrina New Orleans. They also represent a health risk for long-term exposure.

A Safe Way Back Home is a collaborative effort between labor, environmental, and community organizations. It offers neighborhood residents whose homes were flooded by Hurricane Katrina an opportunity to join forces with local labor union members and environmentalists to take a proactive approach to cleaning up their neighborhoods. Contaminated sediment soil, grass, and other tainted items are removed from yards, streets, and sidewalks located on the block. Several inches of grass and top soil are removed from each yard and staged in a vacant lot for removal. Sidewalks, curbs, and streets are pressure washed until all accumulated sediment is removed. Each lot is re-landscaped with graded river sand and fresh sod.
A demonstration project ran from Thursday, March 23, 2006 to Sunday, March 26, 2006 on Aberdeen Road. Volunteers trained in hazardous materials cleanup removed contaminated soil from properties in the 8100 block of Aberdeen Road, located in a New Orleans East community.

 

HEALTH AND SAFETY TRAINING AND EQUIPMENT
Health and Safety training and equipment was provided to volunteers before starting the clean up. The training was supported by grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to Dillard University, home of the DSCEJ, and to the United Steelworkers? Tony Mazzocchi Center for Safety, Health, & Environmental Education.

 

VOLUNTEERS
Hundreds of volunteers participated in the demonstration project and subsequent projects implemented over the past two years. These volunteers came from universities, church groups, government programs, community programs and initiatives, and participant neighborhoods. Without their assistance, this project could not have been successful.

 

COLLABORATIVE ORGANIZATIONS
The Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University partnered with the United Steelworkers, a labor union organization with 1.4 million working and retired members throughout the United States and Canada, working together to improve jobs; to build a better future for families; and to promote fairness, justice and equality both in the workplace and in our society.

Collaborative organizations for the clean up effort included Common Ground, Moving Forward Gulf Coast, Orleans Parish Prison Re-entry Training Program, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, the Natural Resource Defense Council, and Clark Atlanta University Environmental Justice Resource Center. Corporate support comes from contributions made by four USW employers: McWane, Inc.; Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, BF Goodrich; and Bridgestone Americas Holding, Inc. The Parish of St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church generously made available the use of their facility. Other professional services were donated by, R & P Landscaping and House Call Home Care Associates.

A Safe Way Back Home is funded in part by the Ford Foundation, the Mid South Foundation, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Gulf Coast Ecological Health & Community Renewal Fund, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

 

REBUILDING LIVES
Aberdeen Road residents celebrated the transformation of their block with a block party July 15, 2006. Community residents from other neighborhoods came to see the "extreme makeover" of Aberdeen Road. Councilmember Cynthia Hedge Morrell who represents the community, shared in the celebration and commented ?It doesn?t look like Hurricane Katrina hit this block.? Councilmember Cynthia Willard-Lewis of District E also shared in the celebration and offered her support of the project. Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Marlon Gusman has committed the continual use of the Prisoner-Re-Entry program with the project.

 

COMING HOME, ONE BLOCK AT A TIME
The Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ) continues its efforts to return New Orleans residents to a safe environment, block by block. In its commitment to clean-up communities in New Orleans the DSCEJ organized its Safe Way Back Home project on Notaway Lane, Little John St., and Fieldston Rd. The DSCEJ has reached out to New Orleans residents via the web newsletter The New Orleans Agenda, neighborhood association meetings, and by word of mouth. The response has far exceeded the Centers? expectations. Neighborhood blocks have been cleaned up therefore reducing the health risks of exposure to harmful contaminants. As a result of the Safe Way Back Home project we have found that more residents have made a commitment to return home.

The clean-up on Notaway Lane, March 26, 2007, had over 80 volunteers from the United Methodist Church Disaster Recovery Team, Common Ground, and Dillard University. Six yards were remediated on this block. Cornerstone United Methodist Church allowed the Center to set up a staging area on their property for tents, tables, and chairs for volunteer training.

On Thursday, June 27, 2007 over 50 volunteers helped remediate 12 yards in the 4900 block of Little John Street. This clean up effort has helped forge a bond between neighbors that they had not experience before the storm. Some of the residents are helping their out-of-town neighbors maintain their yard by keeping their lawn watered. The volunteers from the United Methodist Church Disaster Recovery Team were phenomenal. They came energized and ready to work. DSCEJ Advisory Board member Margie Richard volunteered her time and donated food for this project.

To commemorate the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, on August 28, 2007 the DSCEJ joined forces with the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and the Urban League to help rebuild hurricane damaged communities in New Orleans. A Day of Service was a full day of community service events. This event highlighted community service and self empowerment. Volunteers helped Mount Zion United Methodist Church remediate the grounds of the churches' property. Seventeen yards were remediation on Fieldston Road in New Orleans East. Former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial participated in a press conference held on Fieldston Rd. The residents in this community worked tirelessly and traveled long distances to return to their community. These New Orleans residents didn?t wait for the government to "make them whole." There are approximately 50,000 residents that have returned to New Orleans East since the storm. The return of residents on Fieldston Rd and the surrounding community is evidence that these residents are committed to rebuilding New Orleans.


Martin Luther King, Jr. Charter School
The DSCEJ expanded its Safe Way Back Home soil remediation project to its first school at Martin
Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Charter School in New Orleans. Volunteers from the United Methodist
Church Disaster Recovery Team, the Orleans Parish Sheriff?s Prisoner Re-Entry Program, the
Counselors for Social Justice and the Kiwanis Pontchartrain Club spread fresh soil and laid new sod on
the playground at MLK Charter School. The faculty and staff at MLK expressed their appreciation and
commended the volunteers for their efforts in helping to ensure that the students at MLK Charter play
in a healthy and safe environment...Community

COMMUNITY   NUMBER OF YARDS REMEDIATED DATE NUMBER OF INDIVIDUALS TRAINED TYPE OF TRAINING
Aberdeen Rd. New Orleans   25 3/2006 180 Health & Safety Training
Primrose Dr.   1 12/2006 6 Health & Safety Training
Notaway Lane   6 3/2007 80 Health & Safety Training
Little John St.   12 6/2007 50 Health & Safety Training
Fieldston Rd.   17 8/2007 35 Health & Safety Training
Martin Luther King, Jr. Charter School   1 School Playground 6/2008 45 Health & Safety Training
        TOTAL 396