Not in Kansas Anymore: IAQ surprises from Major Storms
Henry Slack and Tim
2004, four hurricanes crisscrossed Florida
within a few weeks. Carbon monoxide (CO)
poisonings, from emergency power generators was an unexpected result. Over fifty different incidents, and six
fatalities, were reported during surveillance.
Florida Department of Health has responded with educational materials in
English and other languages that warn people about the dangers of carbon
monoxide as it relates to portable generators.
2005, Katrina flooded New Orleans. Later that fall, volunteers and workers
flooded in, trying to renovate buildings and remove the molds. News media discussed a “Katrina cough”,
although surveillance of local emergency rooms did not detect a significant
increase in respiratory complaints.
displaced by Katrina were moved into all manners of temporary housing units by
the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA.
Many trailers were found to have significant levels of formaldehyde, a
lung irritant and known human carcinogen.
The formaldehyde was released from pressed wood products used in the
temporary housing units. The problem was
exacerbated by high ratio of these products to the small volume of air space in
the units. Although levels could be
lowered by leaving windows open, the warm and humid climate made this action
uncomfortable for the residents. FEMA
has since asked states to determine a limit for formaldehyde in disaster
lessons for public health officials:
- Loss of electrical
power leads indirectly to CO poisoning.
Warnings should begin whenever a loss of power seems probable, and
continue for several days afterward, since more incidents occur a day or
two afterward. Public education
should match the storm season, and include pursuit of warning labels and
limits on emissions.
- Disaster planning
should be carried out by teams of public officials and include some
worst-case scenarios. Documents
should be placed on Web sites.
Paper documents should in storage near likely locations of need for
easier distribution after a disaster.
Announcements for the media can be prepared by this group, and
should extend well past the date of the disaster. After this disaster is over, a group of
officials can evaluate the response and see how to improve before the next