NIEHS Launches Web Site For Assessing Hazards From Katrina
A new Web site with a Global Information System will provide valuable information for assessing environmental hazards caused by Hurricane Katrina. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), one of the National Institutes of Health, announced on Sept. 9 it created the Web site to provide the most up-to-date data to public health and safety workers on contaminants in flood waters, infrastructure and industry maps, as well as demographic information for local populations.
The NIEHS Hurricane Katrina Information Web site -- accessible at http://www-apps.niehs.nih.gov/Katrina -- provides information on assessing and evaluating hundreds of potentially hazardous environmental pollutants that may pose a risk to human health. The Web site draws from information that NIEHS has acquired from a variety of sources including its research programs, as well as through its Superfund Basic Research Program, Worker Education and Training Program, and Environmental Health Science Centers.
The Web site also includes a link to a new Global Information System (GIS) that NIEHS is developing with several academic partners. The GIS will contain layers of data, including the locations of refineries, oil pipelines, industrial facilities, Superfund sites, Toxic Release Inventory Data, agricultural operations, as well as maps and satellite images of schools, neighborhoods, and medical facilities, that will help assess the short and long effects of Katrina on the Gulf region.
"With a disaster of this magnitude, people need many things, including easy access to science based information so they can make informed decisions to further reduce their risk of harm," said NIEHS Director Dr. David Schwartz. "Consolidating information in this new Web site is one vehicle that NIEHS is using to help our fellow citizens."
Information in the GIS, such as the demographics of populations before Katrina will be helpful as health officials treat displaced citizens who may have been previously exposed to toxicants. Subsequent phases will provide more in-depth information to fully assess exposures and make informed decisions about risk of disease.
"This GIS has the capability of being a powerful tool to fully assess and evaluate the short- and long-term environmental health effects of Hurricane Katrina. It will help us all make informed decisions about the uncertainty of risk of exposure and potentially enable us to better understand the links between exposure and disease, "said William A. Suk, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Superfund Basic Research Program.
Other partners working with NIEHS in the development of the various phases of the GIS include Duke University, University of California at San Diego, University of Kentucky, Johns Hopkins, University of Arizona, Boston University, Columbia University, Research Triangle Institute and Harvard University.
The Hurricane Katrina Information Web site also provides other ongoing NIEHS efforts related to recovery efforts, including collaborations with other federal agencies.
The NIEHS, a component of the National Institutes of Health, supports research to understand the effects of the environment on human health. For more information on environmental health topics, please visit http://www.niehs.nih.gov.
This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.