The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has just kicked off what is believed to be the largest study ever conducted on the impact of oil spills on human health. Individuals who helped with the clean up of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year will be monitored for the next 5 years. Critics question whether the poor health among the clean up workers can be attributed solely to the oil spill. They suggest that poor health coverage and unhealthy lifestyles prior to and preceding the spill are more dominant factors than the oil spill. Regardless, NIEHS plans to evaluate 55,000 individuals over the next five years to better understand human health’s vulnerabilities to oil spill exposure and clean-up techniques.
The study will include a wide-range of opportunities for exposure to toxins and oil. Air pollution, controlled burns, dispersants, and contaminated seafood are all considered exposure factors under the study parameters. Toxicologists and local health experts will help the NIEHS determine a set of biomarkers to evaluate their findings against. The study will include external factors that may impact the health of the workers including stress, job loss, and their mental and physical health. Illnesses associated with these rates of exposure tend to include respiratory and epidermal irritation, chemicals in the bloodstream, and higher risks for cancer.
Although the study is not intended to provide definitive links between exposure and health problems, it will provide an important foundation for future research in the field. It will also help illuminate the severity of health issues experienced by those individuals who volunteered to jeopardize their health for the greater good.
To learn more about this study, please visit the GuLF Study’s website.