Nearly two months have passed since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, yet Robert J. Geller, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine and chief of pediatrics at Grady Health System, warns that proper precautions must still be taken before the most vulnerable members of society -- children -- return to the affected areas.
A recent joint statement issued by the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSU) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), outlines broad guidelines that should be met before children should return to the Gulf:
-Basic utilities and public services, such as safe water, electricity, gas, food, healthcare and mental health services, communications systems and sanitation must be re-established.
-Living and learning spaces, such as homes, schools and daycare facilities, must be free from physical and environmental hazards to children.
-Spaces like parks, playgrounds and yards should be clear of debris and free of safety and environmental hazards before children return to play in those areas.
"In short, children should be the last group to return to areas impacted by flooding and/or hurricanes," the statement says.
"We are particularly proud of this statement and its implementation to protect the health of children who prematurely return to flooded areas," says Dr. Geller, who is medical director of the Georgia Poison Center at Grady Health System and director of the Emory Southeast PEHSU, which serves Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. "While there are many guidelines and criteria available from other organizations, this document considers the unique vulnerability of children."
The statement also notes that standards for environmental testing and clean up should be adopted by local health officials in consultation with experts in children's health and the environment. Both AAP and PEHSU warn that particular attention should also be paid to issues relating to water contamination and mold, in addition to common pediatric environmental concerns such as physical safety, lead, asbestos, and chemicals.
"These guidelines are extremely critical to keeping children safe from danger and potential environmental hazards," Dr. Geller says. "Children are uniquely vulnerable to environmental hazards because of their small size, rapid growth, and lack of practice in assessing hazards. They deserve, and should be given, special consideration."
To view the detailed recommendations, visit the Southeast PEHSU website at http://www.sph.emory.edu/PEHSU.