Experts Call for Urgent On-Site Health Protection For Post-Sandy Workers, Residents, and Responders

Immediate implementation of safety measures is needed for workers cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy, according to experts from Mount Sinai.

New York, NY
 – November 21, 2012 /Press Release/  –– 

Immediate implementation of safety measures is needed for workers cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy, according to an Expert Working Group comprised of researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, the School of Public Health at Hunter College, the Environmental and Occupational Health Science Institute (EOHSI) at Rutgers University, NJ, and the New York Committee for Occupational and Environmental Health (NYCOSH).

"Removal of wet materials, like sheet rock, is critical to preventing mold growth, but we must also take precautions to ensure that these hurricane response activities do not impact workers and residents' health in the long run," said Philip J. Landrigan, MD, MSc, Chair of Mount Sinai's Department of Preventive Medicine.

The experts have issued an important caution: children should not be involved in cleanup.  Necessary safety measures include:

  • Advising everyone where pathogens may be present in order to avoid both disease-causing organisms and the potentially harmful overuse of disinfectants.
  • Educating untrained workers and homeowners about potential asbestos and lead issues during renovations.
  • Suppressing dust with water;
  • Oversight of home remediation contractors by public health agencies;
  • Limiting the hours of generator operation and the idling of vehicles;
  • Protection and respite from the cold, and
  • Developing respiratory programs to medically clear, fit test, and supply workers and others with respirators.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the Expert Working Group was formed to conduct on-site risk assessment of environmental hazards at some of the areas hardest hit by the storm including Rockaway Peninsula, Coney Island, and Gowanus and four towns in New Jersey. They found a mix of chemical and biological pollutants and observed areas where debris removal, including sand and construction material, had started on streets and in apartment buildings, homes and stores.

"It was apparent that in addition to professional remediation, many residents were performing clean-up themselves, without training or protective gear available to commercial workers," said Paul Lioy, PhD, Deputy Director of EOSHI at Rutgers. "Homeowners need to be informed when to utilize protective equipment and when a successful clean-up has been performed."

"Likewise, it is important that temporary employees and out-of-town restoration companies hired to remove materials that may contain mold, asbestos, pesticides and lead paint are properly trained and protected to do the work," said Dr. Lioy.

The Expert Working Group observed streets undergoing debris removal filled with engine exhaust from the high density of remediation vehicles, and debris and sand dust continuously being suspended by wind and heavy traffic. In some areas odors of sewage and fuel oil were detected. A number of people in the group experienced irritation from these pollutants.

It will become increasingly dangerous for workers and residents working in areas where there is no electricity with the arrival of colder weather. A pediatrician in the group, Maida Galvez, MD, Director of the Mount Sinai Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit, warned that "As temperatures continue to drop, cold weather remains a major issue, particularly for families waiting on long lines for food, although warming centers are available in several hard hit areas. Access to childcare is another potential major stress on families. Ensuring childcare and school facilities are safe for children's return should be a priority."

Jack Caravanos, DrPH, Program Director of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College, has been training volunteers and is accepting donations of personal protective equipment and environmental monitoring equipment. Dr. Caravanos can be reached at 908-337-8818 or send deliveries to CUNY School of Public Health, 2180 Third Avenue, NYC, NY 10035.

The Irving J Selikoff Clinic of Occupational Medicine is also available for medical assistance. And a HazardAlert, a factsheet that describes some of the most important health hazards to workers from the hurricane and steps to prevent them, is available at http://coem-nyc.org. For questions or to make an appointment please contact the Mount Sinai Selikoff Center at (212) 241-5555.  

About The Mount Sinai Medical Center

The Mount Sinai Medical Center encompasses both The Mount Sinai Hospital and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Established in 1968, Mount Sinai School of Medicine is one of the leading medical schools in the United States. The Medical School is noted for innovation in education, biomedical research, clinical care delivery, and local and global community service. It has more than 3,400 faculty in 32 departments and 14 research institutes, and ranks among the top 20 medical schools both in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding and by U.S. News & World Report.

The Mount Sinai Hospital, founded in 1852, is a 1,171-bed tertiary- and quaternary-care teaching facility and one of the nation's oldest, largest and most-respected voluntary hospitals. In 2012, U.S. News & World Report ranked The Mount Sinai Hospital 14th on its elite Honor Roll of the nation's top hospitals based on reputation, safety, and other patient-care factors. Mount Sinai is one of 12 integrated academic medical centers whose medical school ranks among the top 20 in NIH funding and by  U.S. News & World Report and whose hospital is on the U.S. News & World Report Honor Roll.  Nearly 60,000 people were treated at Mount Sinai as inpatients last year, and approximately 560,000 outpatient visits took place. 

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