Facing South

Study finds that Katrina kids are the sickest children in the U.S.

40366351_3b0e494e5a.jpgHurricane Katrina's youngest survivors are now the sickest children in the United States, according to a report released Monday by the New York-based Children's Health Fund and Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

Many infants and toddlers living in a Louisiana's biggest FEMA trailer park have been found to be anemic because of poor diets, at a rate that health experts said was four times the national average, according to the report. The report reviewed medical records of 261 children who lived in a federally funded Baton Rouge trailer park called Renaissance Village. This is the first in-depth review of Katrina child survivors' medical and mental health since the 2005 hurricanes. An estimated 163,000 children were displaced after the Gulf Coast storms of 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than half of the children were from Louisiana, mostly from New Orleans Parish, and they also were disproportionately black and poor, reports the New York Daily News.

Some other key findings from the study:

  • 41% of children treated at the clinic who were younger than age four had iron deficiency anemia;
  • 55% of elementary-school-aged children had a behavior or learning problem;
  • 42% of children had hay fever, and/or upper respiratory infections;
  • 24% had a cluster of upper respiratory, allergic and skin ailments;
  • One-third of the children had impaired hearing or vision;
  • 55% of elementary-school-aged children had a behavior or learning problem;

Iron deficiency anemia can cause skin diseases, fatigue and attention-deficit disorder, and other learning problems. Severe deficiency in very young children can delay growth and development and even cause heart murmurs, reports the Associated Press.

 "The recovery from Katrina was actually handled far worse even than the initial response," study author Irwin Redlener, a professor at Columbia's School of Public Health told the New York Daily News. "It's just disappeared from public view with an assumption that whatever was done is over."

The "unending bureaucratic haggling" at federal and state levels over how to provide services and rebuild health centers for the Gulf's poor has made a bad situation much worse, Redlener told Newsweek.
camperkids.jpgThe children in the Children's Health Fund study are probably some of the sickest of the estimated 30,000 children living in trailers and temporary housing in the region, Redlener told USA Today. Redlener said that thousands of other displaced children could be experiencing the same health problems. "This is the first wave of data, and it's extremely alarming. Who knows what's happening to kids we're not seeing?" Redlener asked. Redlener said it was imperative that state leaders on the Gulf Coast realize there is a crisis and make fixing it a priority. He suggested creating a "child health task force" to track down the scattered Katrina kids, monitor their health and provide them with critical medical care.

According to the report, some kids may end up with permanent developmental and cognitive delays, but many can still be helped, but the first step will be finding them. FEMA was supposed to provide Louisiana with contact information for the families that moved out of the trailers; it has not done so. The agency's case-management program also "has yet to provide any services for thousands of families," according to the report.

As Facing South has reported, FEMA trailers were found to have high levels of formaldehyde. Many of the children's illnesses could be directly related to formaldehyde poisoning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to initiate a long-term study focusing on children living in federal-funded trailers and mobile homes in Louisiana and Mississippi. 


People Referenced:


re: Study finds that Katrina kids are the sickest children in th

I am so not surprised. Children are more easily affected by chemicals than adults. I was a FEMA resident too, although not at Renaissance. I have had pneumonia, breast cancer, skin cancer and persistent sinus infections as well as lethargy and difficulty with memory and concentration every since. My 9 year old neighbor needed hyperactivity medication and special education.I pushed and got her in.

On top of the chemicals, the kids were severely overcrowded. You think about it. They put 5 people in an RV. That could be a mother and 4 kids living in a space the size of a large residential bathroom. The people who ran the trailer park did not like the children running free and with the Mississippi River a hundred yards away no responsible parent could let little ones explore. My 9 year old friend went on hyperactivity medicine a few months after we got in the trailers. She was already behind, being a New Orleans child, and very poor, but this was more than that. I am a special educator and I clearly saw a learning disability on top of ADHD.

Food: Well you eat what you can afford and microwave. The stove only worked if you could afford the propane and if you don't have a car and you don't know how to or are too far from the public transportation, how do you get to the food stamp office??? Plus I am sure the survivors wanted New Orleans food, not Baton Rouge food. New Orleans food is much more ethnic. Food is the glory of New Orleans and many folks made their living in restauramts, barrooms and hotels. They can cook, seriously cook. I suspect the parents got food as close to home as possible but it was probably deficient in what the kids needed. The refrigerators in the original trailers were like the ones you use in a dorm. The white trailers with bigger ones came later. And Baton Rouge schools are terrible with bad food and lead paint. About like New Orleans schools, but the kids were already chemically exposed and needed a less toxic environment to recover.

No, I am not surprised at all. I heard the kids were getting sick early on and that some in Texas had leukemia and other cancers.

re: Study finds that Katrina kids are the sickest children in th

I am not sure there is a way to locate the children. They are every where and New Orleans has at least 3 school systems, so it would be hard to get their cooperation--- Recovery District, Orleans Parish Board of Education and the parochials, who are getting voucher money. Contacting the state departments of education in various states and asking if they have any Katrina survivors might help, but then they also might not be willing to give it up.

Many of the New Orleans kids were poor and black but, by far, not all. The city was only 60% black before Katrina. The South is not like the ethnic North. People of all races live next door to one another. Even Lower 9th was not all black. Upper 9th was very mixed socio-economically and racially. Many of the children were obviously of more than one race. The whole city is that way.

One way you might be able to check on whether the anemia is socio-economic or chemically related is to look at the St. Bernard children who stayed in the trailers. They were not primarily poor and black. They were mostly working to lower middle class and white. Most eventually went back home. If they are anemic and have developmental problems too, you could say the chemicals caused the anemia. Remember, that while Lower Ninth was in Orleans Parish, Arabi and Chalmette were, in fact all of St. Bernard was hit even harder than New Orleans. St. Bernard Parish, Arabi that is, started just past Jackson Barracks, a military base, from Lower 9th. St Bernard is also right across from New Orleans East. There was NO livable housing in the parish after Katrina. Even the Parish President was on the roof of the courthouse. Alot of St. Bernardians were also in the trailers. But the schools reopened much more quickly than in Orleans, after about two months, not because they had facilities, The first floor of Chalmette High was covered in water and the other high schools were destroyed. They brought in portables and teachers lived in FEMA trailers. Chalmetians drove as much as an hour to get their kids back in their home schools, but many also stayed in the FEMA trailers until school finished in 2006 and then moved back into Chalmette, often into other, bigger FEMA trailers in the parish. The difference in St Bernard and New Orleans is that the government was functioning and many of the people owned homes. Some of them had built those houses with their own hands and needed to get back to repair them the same way. St Bernard people are very tough. They are working people and mostly Catholic. Plaquemines Parish just mostly disappeared and I have heard that the lower part is still gone. Those were fishing families, not rich, but more like rural Louisiana than New Orleans.

So contact the St. Bernard Parish School System and see if you can get the kids tested. It will tell you a lot about the cause of the sickness among the Katrina kids who were also Femites.

re: Study finds that Katrina kids are the sickest children in th

I have worked with people exposed to the formaldehyde for nearly three years since I got a grant from Sierra Club to test the FEMA trailers for formaldehyde. We found 90 percent of the trailers were over the short term limit for formaldehyde. We have seen much illness and five deaths in the initial 60 FEMA trailers we tested.

One of the things I have learned in the time since then is that formaldehyde poisoning is a widespread problem in the U.S., and one that especially impacts lower income people because often mobile homes are all they can afford for housing. The U.S. has failed to regulate indoor air levels of formaldehyde, and with the FEMA children we are seeing reflect the worst case scenario because they were first placed in travel trailers that have the highest levels of formaldehyde, and then into FEMA mobile homes that had lower but still toxic levels of the gas.

Both adults and children have short term memory problems resulting from the formaldehyde exposure. How can a child learn when he or she can't remember what they have just read of heard? That over half of the children in this study have learning disabilities is shocking. I spoke recently with a father of a child in Mississippi who lived in three FEMA trailers before finding other housing. The child, Daniel, is struggling in school and is now repeating the second grade. He was a very bright child before Katrina and now asks his dad: "Why can't I remember anything?"

For more information on how not just FEMA trailer residents both other families across the country have been affected by the failure to regulate formaldehyde, see www.toxictrailers.com. To be part of the solution, go to http://www.epa.gov/opptintr/chemtest/formaldehyde/index.htm and tell EPA to adopt meaningful formaldehyde standards to protect Americans.