Are we in phase one of a major environmental disaster?

Who is Hugh Kaufman? He is a key whistleblower at the EPA in what looks to be part of a major ongoing scandal about government suppression of water testing in New Orleans, the implications of which he argues could be as big as the Gulf of Mexico, as expensive as the war in Iraq, and as vile as an insensitive simile made in an attempt to portend the slow deaths of potentially thousands of unprotected HAZMAT workers.

How experienced is he? Mr. Kaufman has been with the EPA since it was founded 35 years ago, and helped set up its hazardous waste program. After serving as chief investigator to the EPA's ombudsman, he is now senior policy analyst in its Office of Solid Wastes and Emergency Response.

Kaufman has done an interview with Living on Earth on Sept. 2, the U.K. paper The Independent last Sunday, and Air America on Tuesday. Read the transcripts -- that's why I put the links in.

And from what I've read (please correct me if I'm wrong), he's making four colossal arguments:

--It will take 10 years to clean up -- not rebuild -- New Orleans and the toxic waste that it rests in.

--Cleaning up New Orleans means pumping all the toxic waters in the Gulf of Mexico -- a given at this point -- and could effectively kill it, and the massive fishing industry it supports. He estimated that dealing with that will cost as much as Iraq has.

--The indviduals who clean up New Orleans face potentially deadly health risks, which are currently unspecified.

--Unspecified because the Bush administration has suppressed the release of EPA test results as well as intentionally conducted too few.

In addition, here are two key quotes from the interviews:

From Air America:

HOST: So, Hugh Kauffman, Senior Policy Analyst from the EPA, you're telling me they have that information. The EPA office in Louisiana has that information, and you are absolutely sure that that information is horrendous, but they are keeping it under lock and key, because they don't want the people to know the truth of what's really going on down there on a toxic level?

HUGH: That's correct. And that's why the Society of Environmental Journalists are suing under the Freedom of Information act to try and get that information.

HOST: So the government is actively lying to the people about what's going on there, and that is their policy now.

HUGH: That's the policy as of last night at eleven o'clock when I went to sleep.
From Living on Earth:
Host:  Do we face the kind of scenario here that we had [on 9/11] if officials are not straight with people in Louisiana about the extent of contamination from this?

Kaufman: Well, I hope not. I did the investigation. At the time of 9/11 I was the chief investigator for EPA's ombudsman. And so I investigated that case at the request of Congress, and found that EPA lied to the public at the direction of the White House about those contaminants. And they botched the remediation, and that's why you have over 75 percent of the response workers very sick now and they're starting to die off.
The implications of this are enormous. It means we are in phase one of a major environmental disaster, the details of which are being suppressed by our government. The extent to which this is a health risk is also totally indeterminate.

So -- assuming that what Kaufman says is true -- it's just bloody silly to talk about the reconstruction of the toxic waste cesspool formerly known as New Orleans at this juncture. There's a major scandal going on right now, in real time.

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