More than half of the 3,650 miles of levee protections in the city failed during Hurricane Katrina, resulting in 80% of the city being flooded and immense loss of life and property.
Originally, the Greater New Orleans Hurricane Protection system was to take 13 years to build and less than $90 million to complete.
To date, the system has taken more than 40 years to build, is still incomplete, and has cost $14.5 billion.
The system was originally supposed to be built to meet guidelines in the 1965 Flood Control Act, but falls short of those standards today. So, while the levee protection system has improved, it still does not meet the federal guidelines.
The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) also heavily impacted storm protection during Hurricane Katrina and is cited as being responsible for the destruction 27,000 acres of wetlands. MRGO was closed in 2009.
Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
On April 20, 2010 the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill became the largest environmental disaster US history.
More than 200 million gallons of crude oil spilled out into the Gulf Coast, impacting 16,000 miles of coastline in Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Florida and Mississippi.
By 2012, over 8,000 animals died as a result of the spill (including some endangered species).
It is projected that the oil spill could have an economic impact of $8.7 billion in the Gulf Coast over seven years from losses in revenue, wages and 22,000 lost jobs.
BP reports that they have set up a $20 billion Trust Fund to cover damages to be paid for cleanup and response, claims and litigation. By 2013, BP had paid $11 billion to individuals and businesses and $1.5 billion to government.
The oil spill devastated coastal communities including under-resourced and underserved Native American and African American communities.
Over 30,000 responders participated in the cleanup efforts.
Although the NIH has states that it is too early to tell the long-term health implications for oil spill cleanup workers, a study sponsored by the agency found that depression rates for cleanup workers are 30% higher than others impacted by the oil spill.
Louisiana is home to 40% of the nation’s wetlands and experiences 80% of all coastal wetland loss.
Louisiana is losing 25 to 35 square miles of wetlands per year.
At this rate, more than 640,000 acres of wetlands will be under water by 2050.
Since 1930, the state of Louisiana has lost 1500 acres of coastal wetlands.
Louisiana’s coastal wetlands are home to fisheries and wildlife and are an important migratory flyway.
Wetland erosion reduces storm protection, makes the nation’s energy infrastructure vulnerable (one quarter of the nation’s energy supply is serviced in Southeast Louisiana) threatens 30% of the nation’s seafood production, threatens the ecosystem, and impacts Louisiana’s waterways, the most active port in the nation.
Coastal wetland erosion also threatens 60%-70% of Louisiana’s population that lives within 50 miles of the coast.
On March 29, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell filed a lawsuit against Chevron U.S.A. Inc, ExxonMobil Pipeline Company, Entergy New Orleans and eight other oil and gas companies, demanding they repair damage to wetlands. There were 42 other lawsuits filed by six other Louisiana coastal parishes.
Federal judges will determine whether the New Orleans suit – and the other lawsuits – belong in federal court because they involve actions taken by the companies governed by federal laws, or whether they should be returned to state courts in the parishes where they were filed.
Environment & Climate Justice
The 80 miles of oil refineries, petrochemical plants and chemical plants between New Orleans and Baton Rouge make up Cancer Alley, the most polluted area in America.
The heavily African American communities living in Cancer Alley have dioxin (and cancer- causing agent) levels three times the national average.
The entire region is exposed daily to toxins, resulting in high rates of death from cancer, arsenic poisoning and other related illnesses and causing skin rashes, respiratory issues and more.
In New Orleans, several schools and housing development have been built in areas with high toxicity from dumps and landfills including Marrero Commons, Booker T. Washington (future home of Walter Cohen High School) and the Rosenwald Center Sites.
Dangerous levels of arsenic, mercury, lead and other toxins have been found in soil samples in these sites.
Both HANO and the RSD have been or are involved in litigation related to building on toxic sites.
This historic practice of building African American and low-income communities on toxic sites has impacted African American families in Press Park, Gordon Plaza and Moton School (more than 149 toxins and hazardous materials was found in the soil, 40 of which are known cancer-causing agents).
A cleanup of the area only remediated 10% of the community soil.
Similarly, the largely Vietnamese and African American community in New Orleans East’s Village de L’Est neighborhood had the Chef Menteur landfill opened with no community input and without proper safeguards.
The Chef Menteur Landfill received debris from Hurricane Katrina cleanup only two miles from a residential neighborhood and a nearby wildlife refuge.
Residents organized a campaign to close the landfill and were successful.
The reopening of the Old Gentilly landfill, the region’s busiest dump, raised similar concerns for residents.
Illegal dumping continues to be an issue in underserved neighborhoods in New Orleans.
Safer Rebuilding & Sustainability
The movement for sustainable rebuilding in New Orleans is underway with emphasis on greening schools, home weatherization programs and sustainable neighborhoods such as Holy Cross.
Some green initiatives have been criticized for not including community input and are perceived as a land grab from low-income families.
Other Overlapping Indicators
Green space statistics by neighborhood
The number of mortalities due to bike accidents Neighborhood Access to Health Care