IMAGE: FLOODED HOMES
Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality
Some of the 1,700 homes affected by the Murphy Oil spill are seen in this photo taken a few days after Hurricane Katrina hit. The water has since receded.
By Miguel Llanos Reporter
msnbc.com
updated 11/11/2005 7:13:18 AM ET 2005-11-11T12:13:18

Residents near a New Orleans-area oil refinery spill who moved back into their homes should not have been allowed to do so if those homes show oil damage, federal officials said Thursday.

Some 1,700 homes were affected when Hurricane Katrina toppled a storage tank at the Murphy Oil refinery in the Meraux-Chalmette area. Oil from the spill mixed in with floodwaters from Katrina, flooding those homes.

Howard Frumkin, director of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, told reporters that a new report by the federal agency advises against “moving back into homes that have visible oil contamination.”

Children and pets should also be kept away for now, Frumkin said.

Skin rashes and respiratory irritations are possible short-term health effects from contact with the contaminants, Frumkin said.

The report found that “to date, 1,385 properties in the area ... have been determined to have been oiled by the spill. Of those residences, 985 homes were classified as light, 286 were classified as medium and 114 were classified as heavy.”

But no restrictions on returning have been placed on residents. Federal and state officials told reporters that that responsibility belonged to officials in St. Bernard Parish. Attempts to reach local officials Thursday were not successful.

Stephen Johnson, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said his department has “serious concerns” about the Murphy site and that it was “too premature” to say when residents wouldn’t have to take precautions on their properties.

“That’s a large area that needs to be taken care of,” he said of the 1,700 homes.

The Murphy Oil company is cleaning up the site, with oversight from the EPA, the Coast Guard and Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality.

The Murphy report is online at www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/hurricanes/katrina/murphyoil/.

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