Keep Kids Away During Hurricane Sandy Cleanup, Doctors Warn

By Paul DeBenedetto on November 30, 2012 7:59am 

NEW YORK CITY — Doctors and researchers are warning people in Hurricane Sandy's most heavily impacted areas to keep children away from the cleanup effort.

Debris-littered homes in places like the Rockaways and New Dorp Beach on Staten Island are rife with danger for children, teens and pregnant women, according to Dr. Maida Galvez of Mount Sinai Hospital.

"It's best to be careful," said Galvez, who is the director of Mount Sinai's Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit. "Because many houses were seriously impacted by the storm, some of the homes are basically demolition sites."

Of particular concern to doctors are respiratory problems brought on by asbestos, lead paint or mold contained in the wreckage of homes. Those conditions can exacerbate symptoms of asthma and allergies, Galvez said.

Another concern, the doctor explained, is that children can cut or bruise themselves while rummaging through debris — a common problem for both children and adults in the post-Sandy cleanup.

On trips to the Rockaways, Coney Island and Gowanus after the storm, Galvez said she heard stories from local practitioners that a bulk of their work came from administering procedures like suturing and tetanus shots.

"That's where you'll see the child's own curiosity putting them at risk for injuries," she said.

For children who want to help post-Sandy, Galvez recommended less-physical contributions, like fundraising for donations.

A group of researchers called the Expert Working Group, which includes Galvez and other Mount Sinai doctors, studied areas hardest hit by the storm, and witnessed residents performing cleanup without protective gear usualy worn by commercial workers, according to a press release from the group.

In some areas, researchers noticed the smell of motor oil and sewage, and some in the group experienced skin irritation from pollutants at damaged sites, according to the release.

A spokesman for the city's Department of Environmental Protection said that the air quality in areas most affected by the storm was "definitively" safe, but urged those cleaning homes to follow safety standards set by the city's Health Department.

The Expert Working Group also laid out a number of recommendations for adults during the cleanup effort:

  • Be aware where pathogens may be present in order to avoid both disease-causing organisms and the potentially harmful overuse of disinfectants.
  • Educate untrained workers and homeowners about potential asbestos and lead issues during renovations.
  • Suppress dust with water.
  • Be extra cautious around downed wires that might still be alive with electricity.
  • Always wear a full face mask, gloves and hearing protection when using a chainsaw.
  • Limit the hours of generator operation and the idling of vehicles.
  • Protect yourself from the cold.
  • Supply workers and volunteers with respirators.