Natural disasters have unintended side-effects that go far beyond the immediate –
Researchers are examining soil tested for the presence of chemical compounds in neighborhoods destroyed by the 2017 wildfire that swept into Santa Rosa, in California’s Sonoma County north of the Bay Area, and comparing it to uninhabited land nearby where only trees had burned, Hertz-Picciotto said.
In that still-uncompleted study, researchers found nearly 2,000 more chemical compounds in the soil than in uninhabited parkland nearby. Researchers are now working to identify the compounds.
While scientists have studied wildfires for decades — learning much about the impact on air, soil and nearby ecosystems — fires that race from the forest into large urban communities were, until recently, exceedingly rare.
As natural disasters increase in scope and frequency, public health researchers across the United States are developing new lines of inquiry with unusual speed.Scientists, many of them funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), are studying pregnant women exposed to polluted air and water after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017; residents of Puerto Rico forced to live in unrepaired homes where mold and fungus grew after Hurricane Maria in 2017; and eggs from backyard chickens that ate California wildfire ash, among other topics.
“It’s fundamentally critical that we be able to understand these situations and the risks to populations both in the short term and in the long term,” said NIEHS senior medical adviser Aubrey Miller, who is helping to develop quick-response disaster research cutting across scientific specialties.