202984 Impacts of Extreme Storms on Environmental Justice: Assessing Health Risks & Social Burdens of Hurricane Ike in Galveston TX

Monday, November 9, 2009: 4:50 PM

Alexandra Nolen, MPH, PhD , Interim Director: Institute for Elimination of Health Disparities; Associate Director: UTMB PAHO / WHO Training Center, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX
Jonathan B. Ward, PhD , Director: NIEHS Center in Environmental Toxicology, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX
Sharon Petronella, MS, PhD , Associate Professor: Department of Pediatrics (CEIID); Director: NIEHS COEC, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX
John Sullivan, MA , NIEHS Center in Environmental Toxicology / Public Forum & Toxics Assistance Division, University of Texas Medical Branch @ Galveston TX, Galveston, TX
Maribel Martinez, MPH , Institute for Elimination of Health Disparities, University of Texas Medical Branch @ Galveston TX, Galveston, TX
Matthew Stanford, BA , Director: Quality of Life Center / St. Vincent's House (Galveston), St. Vincent's House, Galveston, TX
September 12th 2008, Hurricane Ike struck Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula with strong Category 2 winds and surge floods from 9 -15 feet. A community-based coalition emerged to test sediment for toxins including: heavy metals, dioxins, furans, polychlorinated biphenyls, asbestos, sulfur compounds, diesel range organics, and semi-volatile organics. Areas vulnerable to toxins from Galveston Bay, the Galveston Industrial Channel, the Texas City Petrochemical complex, and the Houston Ship Channel were chosen as sampling sites.

While no actionable levels of toxins were found, detected heavy metals exceeded EPA residential screening levels for six of eight sites and dioxin was elevated at one site. The heaviest concentrations of metals were found in samples taken in low-income neighborhoods of color most devastated by the storm surge.

Results raised health concerns given Galveston's pre-storm lead burden, pervasive sediment across the Island, and potential exposure to aerosolized toxins in dust. Additional social justice concerns focus on health disparities in most affected areas, health care access / closing of university hospital, disproportionate damage to housing in low-income neighborhoods of color, lack of sufficient emergency housing and prolonged dislocation of residents, exposure of vulnerable populations, and cumulative risk impacts on populations taxed by multiple post-disaster issues.

Current climate data seem to predict increases in Gulf sea surface temperatures and frequency of severe cyclonic storms (Category 3-5). These trends could indicate that Ike-sized flooding, or worse may become more common along the Gulf creating social / environmental justice issues in a number of communities.

Learning Objectives:
Define environmental justice terms including: community stressors, multiple impacts, disproportionate impacts, vulnerable populations, and cumulative risk. Explain toxic exposure pathways created by hurricane storm surge in proximity to heavy industry. Describe stressors impacting affected communities during recovery from severe cyclonic storm events. Identify climate change factors contributing to increasing intensity and frequency of Gulf cyclonic storms. Formulate a definition of environmental justice that incorporates the consequences of climate change on worldwide coastal communities.

Keywords: Climate Change, Environmental Justice

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am qualified to be an abstract author / presenter in this content area because I was an integral participant / initiator of the environmental risk characterization project detailed in the presentation.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.