Katrina Health Concerns

Mold has played a significant role in the rise of respiratory illness in the city of New Orleans in the five years since the Katrina tragedy. According to Fox News and Robert Chugden, medical director for emergency services at West Jefferson Medical Center:

Chugden. . . saw an initial increase in respiratory illnesses, which he attributed to significantly higher mold and mold spore counts in the flooded areas. An ongoing study of children with asthma in post-Katrina New Orleans has found that nearly 80 percent — three times the national rate — were sensitive to mold. The next highest rate was 50 percent, found in seven other cities where similar studies have been conducted.

“The mold spore count went up quite high in New Orleans and was able to sensitize kids who would not have been sensitized under normal conditions,” said Dr. Floyd Malveaux, executive director of Merck Childhood Asthma Network (MCAN) and former dean of the College of Medicine at Howard University.

MCAN partnered with the National Institutes of Health to launch a program addressing childhood asthma in post-Katrina New Orleans, which began in 2007 and concluded last September. The program involved 184 children recruited from schools in New Orleans, pairing them with case managers to help them manage their asthma, who would also make home visits to identify risk factors and environmental triggers – such as mold – which can exacerbate a child’s asthma.

Children who participated reported fewer days of symptoms and emergency room visits to manage their chronic condition.

On Thursday, MCAN pledged $2 million to Xavier University in New Orleans to resume a second phase of the case management and environmental mitigation program over four years.

“We have heard a lot about how Katrina changed the city of New Orleans, but very little about how the city’s post-Katrina environment changed health outcomes,” Malveaux said. “There is an undeniable connection between the environment and the health of children with asthma.”

Further health implications involve the elevated levels of poisonous chemicals:

A recent study published in a special issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry found elevated concentrations of lead, arsenic and other toxic chemicals were present throughout New Orleans, particularly in the poorer areas of the city. It suggested that widespread cleanup efforts and demolition had stirred up airborne toxins known to cause adverse health effects.

A team of researchers led by Dr. George Cobb from Texas Tech University sampled 128 sites throughout New Orleans and combined their findings with data gathered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"Our evaluation of contaminants in New Orleans was critical in determining whether storm surges and resultant flooding altered chemical concentrations or distribution," concluded Cobb. "Our results show how long-term human health consequences in New Orleans are difficult to attribute to chemical deposition or redistribution by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, yet reveal how chemical contamination is a historical problem for old cites in the U.S. Our results and the data from coastal ecosystems reveal the value of long-term monitoring programs to establish baseline concentrations and distributions of contaminants in the environment."

The levels of lead found in the samples taken by Cobb and his team exceeded the threshold for safety in the United States. Lead exposure has been linked to brain and nervous system damage, developmental delays and hearing impairment in children. In adults, it has been linked to reproductive issues, miscarriage and birth defects, nerve damage, cognitive impairment, high blood pressure, joint pain and digestive issues.

The results of the study also suggested that floodwaters carried toxic sediment containing arsenic to other areas of the city where they were deposited in the soil.

More research is needed as to the long-term effects of the hurricane on the people of New Orleans.

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