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La. Works to Dispel Katrina Health Fears

August 25, 2006 GMT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Authorities tried Thursday to dispel fears that Hurricane Katrina turned the region into an environmental disaster zone as they encouraged tourists and businesses to keep coming to New Orleans.

Reports after the storm of a ``toxic soup,″ ``Katrina cough″ and other hazards were myths boosted by media looking for a dramatic story, state and federal officials said.

``The question that keeps coming up is, ’Is it safe?‴ said Mike McDaniel, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

McDaniel said the PGA called about environmental concerns before its golf tournament in New Orleans in May, while the Walt Disney Co. had concerns about sending filmmakers. He’s also heard that college recruiters keep fielding questions about the region’s safety.

``The storm did not create this toxic condition everyone talks about,″ McDaniel said. ``The message is that it is safe to return.″

Tom Harris, a department toxicologist, said about 1,800 samples of sediment and water have shown no serious contamination due to the floodwaters. Where trouble spots were detected, they were often related to problem spots before the storm, such as an old municipal dump and the prevalence of lead in New Orleans’ soil.

Marylee Orr, the head of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, remained skeptical. She called the latest pronouncements one more example of the unwillingness by state and federal agencies to deal with the environmental damage.

``It’s a lot easier to tell folks that everything is OK,″ Orr said. ``Some folks feel like the agencies don’t have the political will to deal with the magnitude of the cleanup.″

Orr said people can live safely in New Orleans, but they need to take precautions such as wearing safety goggles, protective clothing and air masks when cleaning out their homes. State and federal agencies continue to urge people to take the same precautions.