Why would you wear a respirator in a flooded urban environment?
May 13, 2016 12:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm going off of photos of folks in New Orleans after Katrina--not everybody is wearing a full respirator, but folks seem to be often protecting their airways. What specifically are people in such a situation worried about exposing themselves to?

Asking for purposes of fiction. Thanks so much.
posted by angrycat to Grab Bag (14 answers total)
The smell.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:31 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Probably mold.
posted by pullayup at 12:31 PM on May 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

Yay, my PPE certification comes in handy at last. Respirators worn in previously flooded zones is primarily protecting people from mold.
posted by xyzzy at 12:32 PM on May 13, 2016 [8 favorites]

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita made landfall on August 29 and September 24, 2005, respectively, large sections of New Orleans (Orleans Parish) and the three surrounding parishes (Jefferson, Plaquemines, and St. Bernard) were flooded for weeks, leading to extensive mold growth in buildings. As residents reoccupied the city, local health-care providers and public health authorities were concerned about the potential for respiratory health effects from exposure to water-damaged homes. On October 6, CDC was invited by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (LDHH) to assist in documenting the extent of potential exposures. This report summarizes the results of that investigation, which determined that 46% of inspected homes had visible mold growth and that residents and remediation workers did not consistently use appropriate respiratory protection. Public health interventions should emphasize the importance of safe remediation practices and ensure the availability of recommended personal protective equipment.

CDC - Health Concerns Associated with Mold in Water-Damaged Homes After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita --- New Orleans Area, Louisiana, October 2005
posted by yueliang at 12:35 PM on May 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

In a overcrowded place with large numbers of people (shelters, superdome, medical settings) people might also be wearing masks to protect against tuberculosis.
posted by yohko at 12:45 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't know what pictures you're looking at specifically, but I can tell you that when I was gutting houses down there as a volunteer circa 2007, the standard uniform was a respirator and Tyvek coveralls. The nastiness defied description. Mold was definitely a major health concern that people were aware of at that time, and that was the main reason for the respirators.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:48 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

The house my father grew up in was flooded in Mid City, and once the waters receded he, my brother and I spend an afternoon seeing if there was anything we could salvage. (Plastic, ceramic, and glass was fine with a little washing; everything else was a total loss.) Mold was *everywhere,* and we all did wear heavy-duty respirator masks. And even then we didn't dare open the refrigerator, which was lying on its back among the muck on the kitchen floor.
posted by Gelatin at 12:49 PM on May 13, 2016

If you specifically want the voice of a New Orleanian I'm right here to say "mold" for you.
posted by komara at 12:51 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mold was my first thought as well. However, I was in The Great Flood of 1993 in the Midwest (I hope I am getting the year correct) and one of the things that many people do not realize is that flood waters are contaminated with sewage. This is not your bog standard river water. This stuff is nasty. It contains all kinds of pollutants and germs and unprocessed sewage, like poo and pee from the sewer system. It is horrifying.

I got a free tetanus shot because I had some cut on my foot. They were giving shots away for free to try to make sure this didn't turn into a tetanus epidemic. Anyone who had any exposure to flood water, especially if they had any kind of open wound, was being asked to go get a free shot.

Please note I am kind of an anti-vaxxer and I went and got this post haste.
posted by Michele in California at 1:13 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mold, trash, sewage, biological waste, possibly dead animals, and in a really bad situation, possibly human remains.
posted by Jacen at 2:44 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

The stench of death. They may have Bicks in those masks or bandannas.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:03 PM on May 13, 2016

Not Bick. Vicks vapo-rub. It helps with the smell.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:57 PM on May 13, 2016

thanks everybody!
posted by angrycat at 4:32 PM on May 13, 2016

I did some post-Katrina work with a guy who broke his nose in high school. Gutting out houses was the first time he had smelled anything since the injury.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 1:34 PM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

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