Many responded to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy: union and non-union construction, trade and maintenance/public works employees;public health and environmental professionals;emergency response including medical personnel;volunteers - student, faith-based and/or community organizations;and family members and friends of property owners. Exposure to molds and associated bioaerosols is a risk factor for respiratory illness. Although technical guidance and training materials on mold exposure and mitigation are readily available, workers are at risk as recovery from Sandy ensues. Further complexity arises because knowledge about health effects from mold exposure (and appropriate protection) is incomplete, and misinformation and controversy in public media leads to confusion. The UCONN Center proposes - Recovery from catastrophic weather: mold exposure and health-related training to increase knowledge and protective behavior related to mold mitigation and health effects within emergency and recovery respondents in states affected by Hurricane Sandy. The project components are: 1) information gathering on - impediments to training access, appropriate mitigation methods and personal protective equipment (PPE), and understanding about mold exposure and health;2) health risk message strategy;3) training resources review and development of an interactive manual;4) seminar encounters;5) outreach and dissemination with access through personal electronic devises and social media;and 6) evaluation. The project team will engage response and recovery workers and the volunteer community to identify barriers to a) becoming knowledgeable and b) acting appropriately to reduce the risk from mold exposure activities. The team will develop and offer on-line publication (including links to vetted resources) and a series of seminar trainings that would include a respirator program. To better prepare emergency response personnel to address respiratory illness and mold exposure, a course segment offering Continuing Medical Education will be incorporated into the UCONN Center for Indoor Environments and Health on-line Clinicians Mold Course. Utilizing established relationships with state health and emergency response agencies, healthy homes programs, union health and safety groups, faith-based and community organizations, the project will successfully implement the program in Connecticut (CT). Once demonstrated in CT, the network will be broadened to contacts throughout the states impacted by Hurricane Sandy to offer the materials on overcoming the barriers to using methods and PPE to mitigate mold exposure for disaster preparedness programs throughout the country.
Recovery from catastrophic weather brings threats and opportunities to public health. Mold exposure and related respiratory illness are unintended consequences to unprepared response and recovery personnel. With greater knowledge about mold's relationship to health and with better skills in addressing flood-damaged properties, the well-prepared workforce will have increased capacity to protect worker and volunteer populations against illness and to rebuild environments for healthier, more resilient communities able to withstand the next hurricane.