Microbial and chemical assessment of regions within New Orleans, LA impacted by Hurricane Katrina

Kellogg J. Schwab, Kristen E. Gibson, D'Ann L. Williams, Kathryn M. Kulbicki, C. Paul Lo, Jana N. Mihalic, Patrick N. Breysse, Frank C. Curriero, Alison S. Geyh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


The city of New Orleans, LA was severely impacted by flooding and wind damage following landfall of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. The city's drinking water infrastructure was severely compromised and massive amounts of sediment were redeposited throughout the flooded region. Thousands of homes were water-damaged resulting in the rapid growth of mold. In September and October 2005 a convenience sample of selected homes, tap water, surface water, and sediment within New Orleans was assessed for mold contamination, microbial contamination, and heavy metal concentrations. At selected sites, indoor mold spore concentrations were compared to outdoor concentrations. The purpose of this study was to conduct a baseline environmental assessment in an effort to identify public health threats caused by wind and flood damage. Surface waters contained high concentrations of bacterial indicators whereas no bacteria were detected in tap water, even from taps containing no chlorine residual. Sediment samples contained concentrations of lead and arsenic similar to pre-Katrina concentrations. Outdoor total spore (sp) concentrations ranged from >6500 to 84 713 sp/m3. Indoor concentrations ranged from 6142 to 735 123 sp/m3. For the 13 locations with matched indoor/ outdoor samples, the mean indoor/outdoor spore ratio was 4.11 (ranging from 0.27 to > 11.44). Inside 5 of the 13 homes, total spore counts/m3 exceeded 100 000, with measurements in the moldiest home exceeding 700 000 sp/ m3. In conclusion, surface waters had high concentrations of bacterial contamination but no bacterial indicators were present in tap water. Sediment samples did not have appreciable increases in lead or arsenic. Flooded homes, however, contained substantial concentrations of mold which could present a public health exposure route to individuals repopulating and restoring the City of New Orleans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2401-2406
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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