Researchers working under the direction of Dr. John Spengler of the Environmental Health and Engineering Department at the Harvard School of Public Health have found indoor contamination rates two and a half times greater than outdoor readings in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
“We are uncovering some particularly nasty varieties of molds that are highly allergenic,” Spengler said. “My concern is that if people try to salvage things from inside their homes and take them to their new residences in houses, apartments or mobile homes, the molds could regenerate.”
Spengler says that much of the focus in the cleanup effort has been on outdoor levels of molds and mildew, which pose serious health risks to people with allergies, asthma and diminished immune systems. While outdoor readings revealed concentrated contaminant levels as high as 650,000 per cubic meter of air, Spengler’s team conducted indoor tests and uncovered levels as high as 1.6 million.
Realizing these high levels pose serious potential health problems, Spengler’s team devised a packet for residents they call a “mold kit,” which includes respirators, gloves and information sheets on safe remediation methods. These were shown to Red Cross officials who are overseeing aspects of the cleanup, and the agency ordered 30,000 of the kits with funding assistance from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Spengler, an indoor pollution expert, was honored by environmental philanthropist Teresa Heinz with the ninth annual Heinz Award in the environment category for his research, which has shown that exposure to indoor pollution can be even more hazardous to human health than outdoor contaminants.