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Disaster's Consequences: Hurricane's legacy includes arsenic

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9:45am, January 31, 2007

Within the construction debris strewn across the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina is a disturbing amount of arsenic, according to a new study. The tainted rubble, as it is currently managed, might contaminate groundwater, the researchers say.

Before 2004, chromated copper arsenate (CCA) was the preservative most commonly used to prevent pest infestation of construction wood. Because of arsenic's toxicity, the Environmental Protection Agency has since banned use of the chemical for residential projects (SN: 1/31/04, p. 74: Danger on Deck?). However, many old utility poles, decks, and fences contain CCA-treated wood.

During March 2006, Helena M. Solo-Gabriele, an environmental engineer at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla., and her colleagues surveyed debris in New Orleans. They used a handheld X-ray–fluorescence spectroscopy unit to determine the concentration of arsenic within 225 pieces of lumber from seven sites.

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