Mold and endotoxin levels in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: a pilot project of homes in New Orleans undergoing renovation

G. L. Chew
J. Wilson
F. A. Rabito
F. Grimsley


BACKGROUND: After Hurricane Katrina, many New Orleans homes remained flooded for weeks, promoting heavy microbial growth. OBJECTIVES: A small demonstration project was conducted November 2005-January 2006 aiming to recommend safe remediation techniques and safe levels of worker protection, and to characterize airborne mold and endotoxin throughout cleanup. METHODS: Three houses with floodwater lines between 0.3 and 2 m underwent intervention, including disposal of damaged furnishings and drywall, cleaning surfaces, drying remaining structure, and treatment with a biostatic agent. We measured indoor and outdoor bioaerosols before, during, and after intervention. Samples were analyzed for fungi [culture, spore analysis, polymerase chain reaction (PCR)] and endotoxin. In one house, realtime particle counts were also assessed, and respirator-efficiency testing was performed to establish workplace protection factors (WPF). RESULTS: At baseline, culturable mold ranged from 22,000 to 515,000 colony-forming units/m3, spore counts ranged from 82,000 to 630,000 spores/m3, and endotoxin ranged from 17 to 139 endotoxin units/m3. Culture, spore analysis, and PCR indicated that Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Paecilomyces predominated. After intervention, levels of mold and endotoxin were generally lower (sometimes, orders of magnitude). The average WPF against fungal spores for elastomeric respirators was higher than for the N95 respirators. CONCLUSIONS: During baseline and intervention, mold and endotoxin levels were similar to those found in agricultural environments. We strongly recommend that those entering, cleaning, and repairing flood-damaged homes wear respirators at least as protective as elastomeric respirators. Recommendations based on this demonstration will benefit those involved in the current cleanup activities and will inform efforts to respond to future disasters.