Federal researchers last month announced the beginning of a wide-ranging study into the possible health effects of the BP oil spill on cleanup workers. The study, which will be led by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, will try to follow 20,000 workers for the next ten years, making it the largest study ever into the health effects of an oil spill. The first 1,000 invitations to take part in the study have already been sent out. Dale Sandler, chief of the epidemiology branch of the Institute, says the goal, is to eventually extend invitations to around 100,000 people who were involved in the cleanup. Most of these folks live in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida.
Officials hope that around 55,000 of the invitees will enroll in the study. The group will then be narrowed further after an initial phone interview. Researchers will visit about 20,000 of these people at their homes, take samples and health measurements, conduct extensive interviews about their health histories and follow up with them over the next decade. From the first days of the oil spill, residents along the Gulf Coast have feared long-term health effects, a concern that was heightened by the unparalleled use of chemical dispersants. That fear may be well founded.
Since the massive spill on April 20th, there have been complaints of health effects from spill exposure around the coast. Some folks have experienced severe symptoms. Dr. Sandler says she knows of about 30 cases of people who have reported complex health complaints and high levels of chemicals in their blood. Hopefully, her information is correct, but since we have been contacted by more than 30 persons, I have to wonder how extensive her search was.
The study will look for any association between specific cleanup duties and the overall health of those enrolled in the study, according to Dr. Sandler. Respiratory problems were mentioned in particular as a focus. Researchers will also study seafood consumption, an area of concern for those who never worked in the spill, but live on the standard Gulf diet that includes shrimp and oysters.
It should be noted that the Gulf study will not provide health care to participants. However, the Institute is coordinating with local and state health departments and will refer some participants to local health care providers. Interestingly, the National Institutes of Health has committed $19 million to the study, which includes $6 million from BP. But officials made a special effort to convince all concerned that BP was otherwise not involved in the study.
Source: New York Times
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