Energy & Environment

Houston, Partners Announce Effort To Track Harvey’s Health Impacts

The project seeks to better understand Harvey’s toxic legacy and its affect on public health.

Flooding in the Katy area after Hurricane Harvey

The City of Houston is launching a project to track how Hurricane Harvey impacted people’s physical and mental health.

The new “Harvey Health Registry” is modeled after similar efforts to survey victims of the September 11th World Trade Center attacks.

The survey, organized by the city, Rice University and the Environmental Defense Fund, asks people for details on how the storm impacted them: whether they flooded, what their housing situation was like afterward and whether they’ve had any health problems or depression since.

EDF Senior Health Scientist Elena Craft said she and other researchers will pair the responses with data on pollution that Harvey caused.

“We know that there were hundreds of Harvey-related releases of toxic chemicals in the Houston area,” she said. “A lot of those releases, we don’t really have good information about the source or the magnitude of that particular release.”

The data that is available will be combined with the survey responses to give researchers a better idea of where Houstonians were exposed to toxins, and whether that led to specific health problems.

Craft said the survey results could also be used to guide decisions on how and where the city’s health department sends resources after future disasters.

In announcing the project, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the costs of Harvey have been counted in many ways, but the storm’s longer-term effects are still hard to gauge.

“Pollutants released by the floods, mostly at chemical plants and other facilities outside city limits, may cause long-term health issues,” he said.

Turner echoed the notion that the survey results could guide the health department’s decision. 

“For example, if the registry data point to [a spike] in asthma attacks in certain areas of the city, we hope to be able to target health resources to that location to remedy the causes,” he said.

The entities involved in the project hope it will become a model for other cities across the country.

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