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Environmental Public Health Impacts of Disasters: Hurricane Katrina - Workshop Summary
said Guidry. Wastewater treatment was a crucial task that needed to be accomplished prior to allowing residents to reinhabit the region.
Air quality. Indoor air quality was being monitored, and public health information on proper remediation to homes and businesses was provided. Information was disseminated on mold and dust, proper ways of removing it, what susceptible groups should avoid any exposure, and what appropriate personal protective equipment should be used to limit exposure. According to Guidry, the indoor air quality program in Louisiana had not been a funding priority. Thus, there were many challenges to obtaining and disseminating information on the impact of indoor air quality on residents’ health.
Workers’ safety. The safety of workers involved in rebuilding efforts was ensured by providing information on personal protective equipment, vaccines, and proper training and by monitoring illnesses and injuries. If workers got sick or injured, however, there were limited medical resources in New Orleans to provide proper care.
Safe housing. Lack of housing for people who wanted to come back to the affected area and rebuild their lives was one of the biggest issues in Louisiana at the time of the workshop. Unlike Texas and Mississippi, Louisiana did not have large supplies of extra temporary housing. The state government calculated that there was a need for approximately 100,000 trailers to house people. Moving from large shelters to trailer homes may affect people’s mental health, as they will have to integrate into a new community and environment.
Recreation. Recreational activities such as boating, swimming, fishing, hunting, camping, and bird watching were a part of the state’s natural resources in the Gulf Coast prior to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The entire coastline affected by the two storms was being monitored, and information on the potential impacts was being provided.
According to Guidry, it was important for people to get back to a sense of normalcy and to move on with their lives as soon as possible. People who were trying to come back to the affected area and rebuild needed to know the risks they were taking. To provide proper risk communication, it was critical to educate health care providers about environmental issues and to ensure their understanding of the science so that they could knowledgeably explain to people the possible environmental impacts of Hurricane Katrina on their health. This task was impeded by the lack of workforce and infrastructure as a result of the storms. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was a mecca in the state for medical care, with one-third of public health employees (450) working in the central Office of Public Health in New Orleans, said Guidry. Many health care facilities, including the downtown Office of Public Health, were closed after the storm, and at the time of the workshop, only 200 of the central Office of Public Health employees in New Orleans had reported back to work.
The economic impact of the storm will change the future of the entire country,