Monday, November 26, 2012

Health Concerns: Hurricane Sandy Aftermath

Cleanup crews that have spent the past three weeks trying to remove the debris and clean the damage sustained during the storm are beginning to succumb to a variety of illnesses and injuries.

Throughout New York and New Jersey, impromptu emergency medical centers have reported seeing people coming in complaining of shortness of breath, coughing, rashes and injuries sustained while hauling refuse. More than 500 patients have been to the Federal Disaster Medical Assistance facilities set up near the Long Beach Medical Center, which had to close after the storm. Approximately 75 patients visit the temporary medical facilities every day, which is twice the number that typically visits the medical center. Workers pulling out carpeting and floorboards are being jabbed by rusty nails and in need of tetanus shots. Members of cleanup crews are experiencing muscle spasms and back strains from the weight of the loads they carry and the continuous bending and stretching. The Hurricane left not only destruction in its wake, but also a breeding ground for mold, mildew and bacteria. Raw sewage, oil spills, dust and rusty nails have caused numerous infections, and carbon monoxide poisoning has been the culprit in several deaths in New Jersey. Severe burn cases are appearing due to the candles, gasoline and lighter fluid used for light and warmth in the many regions left without power.

Norovirus Outbreak in High School

There was an outbreak of norovirus, a gastrointestinal infection that is highly contagious, in a high school that was used as a shelter. City officials had the premises thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before the school was set to reopen.

Toxic Asbestos Spills into Streets

Many homes that were destroyed in the storm were built while asbestos was used as insulation, and the wreckage has spilled the toxic asbestos on the streets. It is expected that the soil might be saturated by lead from the lead-based paint in the wreckage and the gasoline runoff, as was seen in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Health Officials Believe Illnesses Only Temporary

Health officials believe that the illnesses from toxins released by the wreckage will only be temporary; mold exposure only effects the health after continuous contact, and the dust cough from the airborne particles in regions like Rockaway most likely won’t last (residents of New Orleans who experienced persistent coughing after Hurricane Katrina found that the symptoms eventually went away).

While coming in contact with potentially hazardous materials during the massive cleanup is unavoidable, the health concerns are mitigated by taking basic precautions, according to health officials. Gloves, masks and boots should always be worn when removing moldy drywall or carpeting, or when wading in standing water.

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