BACKGROUND: The Northeast has been experiencing catastrophic wet weather events: excessive snow and ice (2011, 2015); storms and hurricanes [Tropical Storm Irene (2011); fall Storm Alfred (2011); and Hurricane Sandy (2012)] which caused extensive destruction. This pattern of severe storms is projected to continue. These events bring attention to threats to respiratory health associated with indoor exposures from moisture incursion. The Institute of Medicine Committee on the “Effect of Climate Change on Indoor Air Quality and Public Health” identified mold and moisture associated illnesses as potential impacts from the damage and degradation of buildings, flooding and water damage associated with hurricanes (IOM 2011). Anecdotal reports of respiratory illness, poor (if any) preparatory training focused on exposures in wet buildings, and inadequate use of personal protective/PPE equipment raised concern for individuals tasked with hurricane response and recovery.
METHODS: UCONN Health’s Center for Indoor Environments and Health partnered with the Connecticut Department of Public Health, ConnectiCOSH and Turner Building Science on the UCONN project- Recovery from catastrophic weather: mold exposure and health-related training*- to develop an outreach program with workshops and training materials directed to reduce the potential for respiratory disease among emergency and recovery responders, construction workers, and the public in states affected by Hurricane Sandy. The approach taken was first to learn what barriers presented through qualitative research methods and then develop an intervention program that would increase knowledge and protective behavior related to mold mitigation and health effects in settings of hurricane recovery work.
RESULTS: The project team developed collaterals, a web resource, and workshops with specific risk messaging and hands-on guidance so workers would be prepared for encountering wet moldy environments. With instructions on how to access these materials, materials for workers- Before the Storm: What I Need to Know; After the Storm: How Can Mold Effect My Health; and After the Storm- Mold and Moisture Cleanup are highlighted.
CONCLUSIONS: Because health providers are in a unique position to provide guidance in advance of exposures from storm events , the intervention materials include guidance for health providers to increase their awareness of health threats to recovery workers from bioaerosol exposures during hurricane response and recovery activities. (*Funded under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Hurricane Sandy Cooperative Agreement 1U01OH010627-01. This description is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of NIOSH.)