Written by By Sophie Knight, CNN
Millions of Americans died prematurely from complications of hypertension and other chronic health conditions due to the Superstorm Sandy-caused 2011 Atlantic hurricane, according to a study released Thursday by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
“Our study suggests the long-term effects of a storm surge combined with the most powerful storms on record (are) likely to result in a significant but hidden increase in the total number of premature deaths in the U.S.,” lead author Cynthia Beekman said in a statement.
Conducted at CUNY, New York University and the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, the study found a 60% increase in instances of hypertension, increased amputations and kidney disease, and a 50% increase in early deaths resulting from heart attacks.
The research team used census data and weather data to compare years of the year to the period immediately following Hurricane Sandy and compared the rates of these illnesses to other periods after natural disasters.
They found that during the three-year period following the storm the death rate associated with all of these health conditions was significantly higher than that during similar periods during the rest of the year.
Researchers also discovered a significant reduction in the concentration of full-grown plant material during the post-Sandy period in New York, contributing to the water contamination in neighborhoods adjacent to the coast.
The study found that the worst increases in mortality were associated with increased instances of hypertension, and the highest peaks in death rates occurred in ZIP codes around neighborhoods affected by the storm, and were tied to areas prone to flooding, sewage spills and power failures.
“Hurricane Sandy had a severe impact on community and economic infrastructures and the interaction of storm surge and ground water contamination may have exacerbated the already prevalent and severe concentrations of hypertension and all-cause mortality,” Beekman said.
The study was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.