Volunteers key to Hurricane Harvey projects

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Volunteers instruct construction workers making flood repairs how to properly wear protective masks.

The Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH) continues to play a vital role in Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts, thanks to volunteers from UTHealth School of Public Health.

“After Hurricane Harvey, faculty, students and staff passed out hundreds of respirator masks to homeowners, volunteers and construction workers, helped us monitor soil and water in areas affected by the flood, and staffed other important projects related to Hurricane Harvey. Their support has been essential to our efforts,” says William Brett Perkison, M.D., M.P.H, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences (EHGES), and a member of the SWCOEH. “Speaking on behalf of the SWCOEH, I want to thank them for their service.”

Following Hurricane Harvey, the SWCOEH launched several projects to support the Houston community.

Currently, teams of volunteers are collecting soil and water samples from multiple heavily flooded neighborhoods in East Houston, Memorial, Addicks and Baytown, as part of the SWCOEH’s environmental sampling study, led by Inkyu Han, Ph.D., and Kristina Whitworth, Ph.D., assistant professors in EHGES. Roberto Rodriguez, Ph.D., EHGES assistant professor at UTHealth School of Public Health in El Paso, visited Houston to help oversee the water sampling. To date, more than 150 samples have been collected, which are being assessed for chemical and biological contaminants.

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After Hurricane Harvey, the SWCOEH launched environmental monitoring in heavily flooded neighborhoods.

Through the SWCOEH’s health and safety training project, led by Perkison and Michelle McDaniel, the SWCOEH continuing education and outreach coordinator, volunteers are providing training and health and safety supplies, including free N-95 respirators and instructions on mold remediation, to keep neighborhood residents and workers healthy during cleanup of homes and businesses damaged by Hurricane Harvey.

So far, a group of approximately 30 graduate students, staff and faculty have distributed more than 900 kits and provided personal education on proper respirator use to homeowners, volunteers and construction workers making repairs. The SWCOEH continues to respond to community requests for training and clean-up kits. 

Volunteers also are helping staff Hurricane Harvey oral history, and family decision-making projects, a collaborative effort between the SWCOEH and the Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research, led by Sheryl McCurdy, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences. In addition, the SWCOEH is working with Baylor College of Medicine, Texas A&M University and Oregon State University on a study to investigate the short and long-term health effects related to the flooding and potential exposures to both biological and chemical contaminants.

For more information about Hurricane Harvey volunteer opportunities, please visit the SWCOEH’s Hurricane Harvey website developed in partnership with the Houston Health Department and Baylor College of Medicine.

— Written by Anissa Anderson Orr