While EPA officials have warned of serious health hazards from bacteria, chemicals and metals in the region's floodwaters and sediment, they haven't taken a position on New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's aggressive push to reopen the city.
"EPA may not be providing people with the clear information they need," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. "EPA should be clear about the actual risks when people return to the affected areas for more than one day."
A week ago, on a visit to the Gulf Coast, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson stopped short of judging Nagin's plan to allow certain New Orleans residents and business people back into the city. Johnson said it created "a myriad" of potential health concerns, and the agency was "very concerned about the opening of those parts of the city."
Republican members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee also were skeptical of post-Katrina work being done by EPA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.
"The people of New Orleans need to feel safe, need to feel like there's a plan," said Sen. David Vitter, R-La.
The committee's chairman, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., expressed skepticism about the two-page government handouts on environmental and public health risks that EPA helped compile.
"It bothers me a little bit," Inhofe said. "How many people are going to see the report?"
EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock said thousands of copies are being delivered door-to-door, at relief centers and other public places...