Monday, December 10, 2012

With the number and severity of floods on the rise, University of Iowa researchers have provided health departments with evidence-based information to inform homeowners about recovery strategies after such disasters.

Published in May 2012 by the journal “Indoor Air,” this study characterizes exposures and symptoms experienced by individuals inhabiting 73 flood-damaged homes in Cedar Rapids during and after remediation, which is the act or process of correcting a deficiency. These homes were damaged following the historic flood of 2008, when the Cedar River crested and flooded the city, affecting more than 5,000 homes.

The research suggests that proper remediation of flood-damaged homes can reduce bioaerosols to acceptable levels. Results also showed that bioaerosol exposures increase significantly while remediation is in-progress. Such exposure can lead to an increased burden of allergy and allergic rhinitis, which is anallergic inflammation of the nasal airways. A bioaerosol is a suspension of airborne particles that contain living organisms or were released from living organisms.

From November 2008 to April 2009, UI graduate student Kimberly Hoppe collected indoor air quality samples, measured wall moisture levels, and administered health questionnaires for people who had re-occupied their flood-damaged homes. The indoor air quality exposures and questionnaire-based health assessments were compared at two levels of remediation: 1) in-progress; and 2) complete.

“The in-progress homes had significantly higher levels of airborne concentrations of culturable mold, culturable bacteria, inhalable particulate matter, inhalable endotoxin, and fungal glucan,” says Hoppe, a Ph.D. candidate in occupational and environmental health and first author of the study. “We concluded that remediation returns homes to suitable levels of these bioaerosols.”

In the questionnaires, residents of in-progress homes reported a significantly higher prevalence of doctor diagnosed allergies, and all residents had elevated prevalence of self-reported wheeze and prescription medication use for breathing problems after the flood as compared with before.

“If there is a flood, take precautions before entering your home, because being in flooded buildings can impact your health,” says Hoppe, who encourages people to wear masks when entering their flooded homes even though wearing the masks may be hot and uncomfortable.

The research team also included senior author Peter Thorne, UI professor of occupational and environmental health; Nervana Metwali, UI research specialist in occupational and environmental health; Sarah Perry, UI research associate in occupational and environmental health; Tom Hart of Linn County Public Health’s Environmental Division; and Pamela Kostle, environmental lab manager of the State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa.

For Hoppe, the interviews with Cedar Rapids residents were valuable as a professional development opportunity to enhance her academic experience.

“Being able to explain things to the public is an important skill for graduate students,” Hoppe says. “I am grateful to have had an opportunity to talk to those people in their time of despair.”

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.