Hurricane Katrina: Environmental Hazards in the Disaster Area

16 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2008

See all articles by Danny Reible

Danny Reible

University of Texas at Austin


The flooding of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina provides many lessons for the environmental and engineering communities and raises public policy questions about risk management. Although serious environmental and waste management issues were expected as a result of the flooding, extensive environmental sampling largely failed to substantiate them. The attention of those managing the emergency was diverted from critical issues to addressing this area of public apprehension. The potential environmental consequences were of concern because many chemical plants, petroleum facilities, and contaminated sites, including Superfund sites, in the area were covered by floodwaters. In addition, hundreds of commercial establishments, such as service stations, pest control businesses, and dry cleaners, use potentially hazardous chemicals that may have been released into the environment. The potential sources of toxics and environmental contaminants include metal-contaminated soils typical of old urban areas. Compounding these concerns is the presence of hazardous chemicals commonly stored in households and the fuel and motor oil in approximately 350,000 flooded automobiles. Uncontrolled biological wastes from human and animal sources also contributed to the pollutant burden. By and large, however, the environmental problems in the city are not significantly different now from environmental conditions before Hurricane Katrina. This discussion focuses on successes and failures in responding to the environmental concerns and on lessons learned for future disasters.

Keywords: Hurricane Katrina, Environmental Hazards, flooding, risk management

Suggested Citation

Reible, Danny, Hurricane Katrina: Environmental Hazards in the Disaster Area. Cityscape, Vol. 9, No. 3, 2007, Available at SSRN:

Danny Reible (Contact Author)

University of Texas at Austin ( email )

2317 Speedway
Austin, TX Texas 78712
United States

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