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Pontchartrain Fish Are Declared Safe to Eat

October 02, 2005|From Reuters

BATON ROUGE, La. — Fish from Lake Pontchartrain, the source of much of New Orleans' famous seafood, is safe to eat again after Hurricane Katrina, but lay off the oysters, state environmental experts said.

They said shrimp, crab and fish could be consumed if they were thoroughly cooked, but oyster beds were closed and could stay that way for months.

Full recovery of the beds could take up to two years, said Harry Blanchet of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Fetid floodwaters that filled 80% of New Orleans after Katrina struck on Aug. 29 were pumped into Lake Pontchartrain, but they turned out to be less polluted than had been feared.

Tests found lots of bacteria from sewage but no dangerous levels of chemical compounds, said Chris Piehler of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

"There is no toxic soup," he said Friday. "We find no evidence to indicate that people should not consume seafood from Lake Pontchartrain, given that they are properly handled."

Jimmy Guidry, a state health officer, said Hurricane Rita, which hit southwestern Louisiana on Sept. 24, helped because its rains diluted toxins in the waters near New Orleans. "It's definitely a lot safer than we thought it would be," Guidry said.

Officials said Katrina alone had done an estimated $1.1 billion in damage to the state's seafood industry. The impact of Rita was still being studied.

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