After Hurricane Harvey, Oregon State University’s Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology send a research team to Houston, to ascertain the threat to human health from exposure to toxins in the water, soil and air. They worked with Texas A&M, and THEA to gather the results.
Data was collected by using passive wristband samplers to determine personal chemical exposure after the flooding.
These wristbands can measure up to 1,530 different chemicals. 41 Superfund sites in Houston were affected by the hurricane, and 13 of these were flooded.
Although the study was conducted throughout the Houston area, a subset of 32 people were recruited from the Highlands area, and of these 27 returned their wristbands and had them analyzed.
Researchers looked for 1,530 chemicals found in several different chemical classes. Some chemicals are included in more than one class. For example, triclosan is found in both personal care products and is considered a pesticide. On average, each person had 28 chemicals in their wristband.
They measured chemicals at the nanogram level, which is a very small amount. However, they are still learning how much of a chemical is needed to cause a negative health effect.
Of the Highlands sample group, 119 chemicals were found across all 27 wristbands. 1411 chemicals were not detected.
Of the chemical types, endocrine disruptors are found in many groups, including pesticides, flame retardants and personal care products.
Industrial chemicals include phthalates, commonly found in plastics.
An average of 28 chemicals were detected in each wristband. The lowest was 12 chemicals in a wristband and the highest was 43 chemicals in a wristband.
People were mostly exposed to endocrine disruptors, followed by industrial chemicals and chemicals found in personal care products.
No Dioxins, Furans or PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) were detected in any of the samples.
However, the researchers cautioned that that might only mean that residents in the Highlands group were not directly in contact with toxins.
Future work by the team will track chemical exposures over time. They are expected back in the next month, one year after Hurricane Harvey.
Pam Bonta suggested that after the hurricane, many people spent time cleaning sediment, and wading in flood water. Therefore they might have been exposed to toxins after the period they wore their wristbands.
The research team cautioned that currently there are no regulations for many of these chemicals in the air. As a results it is difficult to know how much of a chemical is needed to cause health effects.