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Major adverse climatic events (MACEs) in heavily-populated areas can inflict severe damage to infrastructure, disrupting essential municipal and commercial services. Compromised health care delivery systems and limited utilities such as electricity, heating, potable water, sanitation, and housing, place populations in disaster areas at risk of toxic exposures. Hurricane Sandy made landfall on October 29, 2012 and caused severe infrastructure damage in heavily-populated areas. The prolonged electrical outage and damage to oil refineries caused a gasoline shortage and rationing unseen in the USA since the 1970s. This study explored gasoline exposures and clinical outcomes in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Prospectively collected, regional poison control center (PCC) data regarding gasoline exposure cases from October 29, 2012 (hurricane landfall) through November 28, 2012 were reviewed and compared to the previous four years. The trends of gasoline exposures, exposure type, severity of clinical outcome, and hospital referral rates were assessed.
Two-hundred and eighty-three gasoline exposures were identified, representing an 18 to 283-fold increase over the previous four years. The leading exposure route was siphoning (53.4%). Men comprised 83.0% of exposures; 91.9% were older than 20 years of age. Of 273 home-based calls, 88.7% were managed on site. Asymptomatic exposures occurred in 61.5% of the cases. However, minor and moderate toxic effects occurred in 12.4% and 3.5% of cases, respectively. Gastrointestinal (24.4%) and pulmonary (8.4%) symptoms predominated. No major outcomes or deaths were reported.
Hurricane Sandy significantly increased gasoline exposures. While the majority of exposures were managed at home with minimum clinical toxicity, some patients experienced more severe symptoms. Disaster plans should incorporate public health messaging and regional PCCs for public health promotion and toxicological surveillance.