Few things are more devastating or confusing than to be in the path of a natural disaster, and hurricanes are among the worst. Last week, the most brutal storm to hit the United States in 12 years made landfall in Texas: Hurricane Harvey. By now you’ve seen more than enough images of devastation, rescue crews driving boats through flooded neighborhoods, and overcrowded shelters. It hasn’t been as deadly so far as Katrina or Sandy, thank God, but it’s far costlier than any other disaster in American history. The jaw-dropping combination of 132 mph winds and 19 trillion gallons of water, which AccuWeather hauntingly rendered as a gargantuan cube hovering over downtown Houston like the New Jersualem in the Revelation of John (the phrase “Biblical proportions” has been invoked numerous times in the media) have clobbered the region with an estimated $190 billion recovery cost.
Here at Enviro we have a track record of stepping up to provide rescue supplies in times of crisis, such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa earlier in 2014. We’re committed to contributing similarly to the Harvey relief effort. It’s the least we can do as Americans and human beings to serve the heroes on the ground with the best of our equipment.
In a full-scale cleanup after a disaster of this scale, contamination is the primary concern. The water has wreaked havoc on Texas’s urban infrastructure. The sewers have overflown and deadly parasites and molds are free to infest the environment, as well as toxins from industrial sites. You need protection from those hazards, and companies like DuPont have got your back with Tyvek coveralls. Their signature flashspun polyethylene fabric protects against particles as small as 1 micron, and its protective qualities are inherent to the fabric and therefore resist wear and abrasion. You’ll want serged seams on the wrists to keep water from rushing into the sleeves, but for your legs you’ll need full waders. If you’re feeling particularly cautious, you might want to get the variety that comes with a respirator-fit hood, which brings us to the next item.
Airborne contaminants are everywhere in a situation like this. The National Hurricane Center website has a helpful animation that shows the spectrum of damage that hurricane winds can cause to a house and to a stand of palm trees. If you adjust the wind speed approximately to where Harvey’s winds reached their zenith, half of the house is disintegrated and blowing in the wind, and the trees are stripped of their fronds. That’s a cloud of building material (possibly predating the asbestos ban) floating free in the air to be inhaled. You need a respirator that has the right balance of high-performance and portability. The N95 particulate respirators from 3M are a good family of products to explore, some of which feature a nifty exhalation valve that prevents it getting too hot in there. The punishing heat of Texas in summer combined with the oppressively wet conditions and the level of exertion involved in rescue work way well make it a necessity.
This won’t be the final word on Harvey in this space, since it only covers two categories of product that we carry at Enviro. There will probably be more posts about the relief effort after the weekend, so stay tuned and stay safe.