Volunteers returning from working with the rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast region have brought more than just the feeling of a job well done with them. They've begun to develop a number of different, and in some cases, unexplainable, health symptoms ranging from what some ave called the "Katrina Cough" or "mold cold" to antibiotic resistant injuries and infections, meningitis and even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). ASCR International, the association f professional restoration and disaster recovery companies, applauds the Gulf Coast volunteers and wants to see them return to their homes unburdened by nothing more than a sense of accomplishment.
ASCR's experience in dealing with catastrophic disasters worldwide places our members in a unique position to provide information so volunteers can be smart and be safe when assisting with projects in hurricane ravaged areas. In the inundated quarters around New Orleans, long-term flooding has created a host of contamination problems. Under such conditions improper cleanup can create short-term and long-term problems for both the workers and residents who will reoccupy the damaged structures.
Exhibit 1. Flooding conditions in New Orleans following the breach of the levees (available in full paper).
In areas impacted by any sort of natural disaster, there will be a variety of physical hazards that should be recognized by workers. These dangers can include unstable materials, downed power lines, gas leaks, and damaged containers of hazardous household chemicals such as solvents, lawn fertilizers and pesticides. The working conditions can easily result in slips, cuts and unctures from broken glass, nails and wood, and cutting dangers from the use of hand and power tools. Because of the conditions and amount of materials being moved, eye injuries are a constant concern.
While many media reports have focused on visible mold growth, there are additional hidden hazards such as asbestos facing volunteers. High levels of bacterial growth have been reported in water-damaged structures. The flooding deposited a variety of heavy metals such as lead and mercury into porous building materials. Because of the historically high use of pesticides in the New Orleans area to combat termite infestations, significant levels of pesticide residues have been measured, particularly around older houses. The damage to oil refineries and storage locations left many neighborhoods with visible residues. There are also airborne particulates that may be unseen by the human eye, but can still cause illnesses when inhaled.