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Did Hurricane Harvey Expose Houston Residents to Harmful Chemicals?

The waters from Hurricane Harvey brought some contamination to the areas they flooded. After an environmental disaster, officials typically test affected areas repeatedly for chemical contamination. However, researchers are concerned about how many toxic substances residents received exposure to. Now, they are monitoring Houstonians for signs of chemical exposure.

During a study by Oregon State University, Baylor College of Medicine, and UTHealth, over 150 participants wore high-tech wristbands which can detect over 1,000 chemicals. Now, researchers are questioning whether the unique results they found were because Houston is a large metropolitan area or if they are typical for Hurricanes.

What Did the Study Find?

Diana Rohlman, a researcher from Oregon State University, confirmed that researchers identified 183 chemicals present with participants. Seven of these chemicals were ones that researchers had never observed in other similar studies.  

“What we don’t know right now is is that just unique to Houston, being a metropolis?” Rohlman commented. “Or is that unique to the hurricane? So as we continue doing analysis we can start to answer those questions.”

Rohlman stated that this test is important because researchers are expecting more disasters to strike throughout the United States. “We know disasters are going to keep happening,” Rohlman said. “The question is always, what are people being exposed to? What concerns do we have? How can we better prepare?”

Dr. Cheryl Walker from Baylor College of Medicine said that these wristbands are providing a useful snapshot of the long-term health effects of Harvey. Walker noted that the study determined that the most substantial health impact made by the storm was an increase in stress. The next most significant health impact came from increased exposure to pesticides during the storm. However, the scope of Harvey’s impact on Houstonian health is still not known. Researchers hope that the results from these wristbands will help them learn precisely what residents can expect during future disasters.