SWCOEH investigates Harvey impact on the health of Houstonians in ongoing study

HOUSTON – Shortly after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas in 2017 and the resulting floods destroyed more than 100,000 homes, researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine (BCM), UTHealth School of Public Health and Oregon State University, began investigating the short and long-term effects from flooding exposures. The project is titled, “Environmental Health Outcomes Research among Hurricane Harvey Survivors,” and is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences through the year 2020.

The goal of the ongoing Hurricane Harvey study is to recruit individuals who have been affected by flooding in their homes or have possible exposure to mold, other biological contaminants or chemicals from assisting in rescue, clean-up and remediation efforts.

Eligible study participants, including residents from Addicks, East Houston and Baytown, were asked to complete a health questionnaire, provide biosamples and wear a lightweight silicone wristband for seven days while living in a flooded home or helping with “muck and gut” clean-up or remediation efforts. Additionally, participants provided an environmental sample by taking a swab of the wall just inside the front door of their homes. Within 30 days of the storm making landfall, the study enrolled more than 200 participants whose households flooded during Hurricane Harvey.

A year later, Elaine Symanski, PhD, director of the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH) and her team again joined study Melissa L. Bondy, PhD, lead investigator at BCM, and their colleagues and began to return to neighborhoods for the one-year follow up. They have also been recruiting new participants into the study.

The purpose of the return visits is to compare exposures to chemicals and biological contaminants experienced immediately after Harvey to data collected 12 months later and to track the short- and long-term health effects of the storm.

“Hurricane Harvey put the SWCOEH front and center in responding to the horrific storm last fall and we are now continuing efforts as disaster scientists to develop tools that allow for better responses to hurricanes in the future,” says Symanski. Visit the SWCOEH Hurricane Harvey website for an overview of their events and projects, including the study, oral history project, and more.

During August and September 2018, the team held follow-up and recruitment events in Houston’s neighborhoods, and they will continue to do so through November 2018. Learn more from stories reported by ABC News and the Houston Chronicle.

Symanski is the PI of the study subcontract for UTHealth, which falls under the Baylor project, which Bondy leads.

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