Hurricane Katrina made landfall on Monday, August 29, 2005, as a category 4 hurricane and passed within 10 to 15 miles of New Orleans, Louisiana. The storm brought heavy winds and rain to the city, and the damage breached several levees protecting New Orleans from the water of Lake Pontchartrain. The levee breaches flooded up to 80% of the city with water reaching a depth of 25 feet in some places. Among the wide-scale impacts of Hurricane Katrina, the storm caused significant loss of life and disrupted power, natural gas, water, and sewage treatment, road safety, and other essential services to the city. Early in the disaster response and recovery, federal, state, and local elected officials and public health and environmental leaders recognized the significant role of environmental health in the post-hurricane rebuilding of New Orleans. At the request of the Secretary Michael Leavitt of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Administrator Steve Johnson of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Julie Louise Gerberding, created the Environmental Health Needs Assessment and Habitability Taskforce (EH-NAHT). The taskforce was charged with identifying the overarching environmental health issues faced by New Orleans to reinhabit the city. The team was guided by the following questions: (1) What are the core or fundamental environmental health issues to be addressed; (2) Which agencies and organizations at the federal, state, or local level are responsible for, or involved in, the various environmental health issues; (3) What progress has been made and what challenges exist; (4) What is the timetable to address these environmental health issues; (5) What resources exist or need to be brought to bear to address these environmental health issues; and (6) What are the key milestones and endpoints that define success. The team identified 13 environmental health issues and
supporting infrastructure to address. This initial assessment included drinking water, wastewater, solid waste/debris, sediments/soil contamination (toxic chemicals), power, natural gas, housing, unwatering/flood water, occupational safety and health/public security, vector/rodent/animal control, road conditions, underground storage tanks (e.g., gasoline), and food safety.