Heavy metals like lead are associated with coal, and chrome with the residues of stainless steel process equipment. Coal dust from ancient basement coal bins and power plant stockpiles might account for some of what's being found in the EPA samples, for example.
The Gulf coast is the recent home of the invasive and destructive Formosan Termite as well as native termite species. Before the recent ban by USEPA of copper/chrome/arsenic (CCA) pressure treated wood, treated lumber was used for footers, uprights, and decking to help resist termites and biodegradation. The presence of metals that may have originated from treated lumber comes as no surprise.
Landfilling is going to be needed for the broken timbers, facade elements, cladding, roofing, tree limbs, and roots. However, large scale building material recycling certainly could be feasible. Perhaps the efforts of sorting, cleaning, preparing, and distribution can provide some jobs and raw materials for a new crew of green designers.
To make recycling of construction waste safe, and deal with the lead paint that remains, we expect a lot of lead test kits to be sold. Are there enough pressure washers in the whole country to do this job we wonder? What sort of personal protection is appropriate for everyday people to use? And what kind of surfactants are green and yet effective enough for the cleanup? Fast answers needed.
As for the fallen trees, that's a whole lot of potential fire wood or mulch. We can hardly imagine that the nation needs the volume of wood chips that Katrina could provide; plus, grinding it all into mulch would be energy intensive and polluting. Without proper sorting, there's a chance that CCA treated wood will be mulched in with the landscape trimmings and stumps. Keeping that stuff for the landfill is important.
The heating season on the gulf coast is brief, and severe cold so rare that reliance on small wood burning space heaters could be sensible, especially for those with little money to spend on a new furnace. Some wood burning pellet models are designed to emit little in the way of particulates or carbon monoxide. An EPA list of low emission certified wood stoves is here.
Given the scale of the problem, TreeHuggers need to get ready for the challenges of cleanup, turning waste into resources, getting the right technologies, and planting pollution tolerant native trees. That's what we think anyhow. What about you?