OSU Study: Wristbands help show possible chemical exposures to Hurricane Harvey victims

Dr. Lane Tidwell, prepares a how they extract chemicals from a wristband on October 13th, 2017. at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. (Clara Benitez/ SBG)

CORVALLIS, Ore.- A study is being conducted at Oregon State University to see if victims of hurricane Harvey were exposed to harmful chemicals, using plastic wristbands.

Thousands of people were displaced by hurricane Harvey, when it hit the Houston area in late August.

“It mimics what the body would take in for chemicals,” said Dr. Kim Anderson, professor at Oregon State University.

These wristbands have a unique purpose: Detecting possible chemical exposure.

Scientists are using them to help hurricane victims exposed to floodwaters in Houston.

“They will be standing in water and saying toxic soup but we really don't know what is in the water or what is in the air,” said Dr. Anderson.

Dr. Anderson is leading and funding this research.

“I'm trying to alleviate worries," said Dr. Anderson. "It's better to know, then you can do something about it if there is something there, than not to know. Not to know is very scary,” said Dr. Anderson.

“We had about 3 and half days to get all of our materials set, book flights and get down there,” said Dr. Lane Tidwell, a researcher at OSU who use to live in Houston. “Going back and seeing the devastation around the Houston area it was just shocking."

Tidwell says Houston residents were eager to participate in the study.

“When I was talking to people, that's when I realized what was going on inside homes that you can't really see,” said Holly Dixon, who also went to Houston to help with the study.

The researchers hope that the wristbands will show if the Houston residents were exposed to harmful chemicals in the flood waters.

The wristbands are cleaned from any previous chemicals they might have.

“They are in a air tight bag, sealed until you put them on. Once you put them on, once you return them to us you put them back in an air tight bag so the sampling stops,” said Dr. Anderson.

Once they are brought back to the lab, they extract all the chemicals from the wristbands, producing a small sample of what came in contact with the wristbands, essentially seeing if the person wearing the wristband was around any harmful chemicals.

“The communities were very interested in it," said Dr. Anderson. "To see what their exposures as the water receded and there was settlements left behind in the waters and they were cleaning their homes from the waters that were there,"

Dr. Anderson hopes to help these communities by providing them with information that could help their rebuilding process.

“If we do find chemicals there may be ways in which, depending on which chemicals we find, that we might be able to go back to these communities,” said Dr. Anderson.

Right now, Dr. Anderson and her team are collecting the 200 wristbands back to provide clues to the extent of the toxic exposure.

According to Dr. Anderson they have received about 82% of the wristbands back, which is a great turn-out.

Dr. Anderson and her team have done similar research using wristbands

“I like to help people and this is the way I can do it,” said Dr. Anderson.

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