Assessment of airborne exposures and health in flooded homes undergoing renovation


Peter S. Thorne
Department of Occupational and Environmental Health
University of Iowa
S341A CPHB, 105 River St.
Iowa City, IA 52242
Tel.: (319)-335-4216
Fax: (319)-335-4225


Abstract  In June 2008, the Cedar River crested flooding more than 5000 Cedar Rapids homes. Residents whose homes were flooded were invited to participate in this study. Household assessments and resident interviews were conducted between November 2008 and April 2009. We characterized exposures and symptoms experienced by individuals inhabiting 73 flood-damaged homes. Active air sampling and passive electrostatic dust collectors were used to assess exposures to culturable mold, culturable bacteria, fungal spores, inhalable particulate matter (iPM), endotoxin, glucans, allergens, lead, asbestos, radon, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide. Wall moisture levels and relative humidity were also measured. Exposures and questionnaire-based health assessments were compared at two levels of remediation, in-progress and completed. Homes with remediation in-progress (= 24), as compared to the completed homes (N = 49), had significantly higher airborne concentrations of mold, bacteria, iPM, endotoxin, and glucan. Residents of in-progress homes had a significantly higher prevalence of doctor-diagnosed allergies (adjusted OR = 3.08; 95% CI: 1.05, 9.02) and all residents had elevated prevalence of self-reported wheeze (adjusted OR = 3.77; 95% CI: 2.06, 6.92) and prescription medication use for breathing problems (adjusted OR = 1.38; 95% CI: 1.01, 1.88) after the flood as compared to before. Proper post-flood remediation led to improved air quality and lower exposures among residents living in flooded homes.

Practical Implications

The number and severity of floods is on the rise, and health departments need evidence-based information to advise homeowners on recovery after such disasters. Our study suggests that proper remediation of flood-damaged homes can reduce bioaerosols to acceptable levels but exposures are significantly increased while remediation is in-progress leading to an increased burden of allergy and allergic rhinitis.