Federal officials issued a last call last month asking BP oil spill cleanup workers to enroll in the Gulf Study. The study marks the largest health study of oil spill workers in history, and will be conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. It’s estimated that the study will involve 35,000 to 40,000 people. Those eligible to participate include volunteers and paid workers. Enrollment is open until Dec. 31, 2012. So far, 29,000 people have signed up, including people who cleaned beaches for as little as one day, and workers who for weeks at a time applied Corexit to oil floating on the Gulf. About 18% of the participants are from Alabama, with 12% being from Mississippi.
NIEHS is seeking all eligible workers and volunteers — those who are healthy as well as those who may have health challenges — to enroll. NIEHS is also making a special request for anyone who worked near the source of the spill, such as oil rig workers and rig support personnel, to enroll. Because of their proximity to the spill, it will be important to understand how their exposure might affect their health. Anyone who helped with the cleanup may have been contacted by mail, text message, or phone call to participate in the study. Those who have not yet enrolled are being urged to do so now.
The study began a year ago with letters sent out by the National Institute of Health addressed to “Mr. Cleanup Worker.” Officials had hoped to reach many of the 150,000 cleanup workers by phone, but more than half of the phone numbers provided by the workers three years ago are no longer in service. The study is purported to be the largest examination of oil spill workers ever. Scientists will monitor and assess the physical and mental health of participants over time. But scientists will not be able to measure compounds related to oil exposure in the blood of participants. Those chemicals typically disappear from the body within 24 hours, according to Dale Sandler, Ph.D., chief of the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch and lead researcher of the study.
The investigation will focus on diseases or health problems that might be attributable to the exposure to oil and other chemicals, such as an increased incidence of cancer in the spill workers. Dr. Sandler had this to say about the study:
We are working now to make sure all cleanup workers and volunteers have a chance to take part and share their stories, whether they are healthy or not. We’re making a special call out to enroll rig workers in the study. They had a special opportunity for exposure. We want to understand how their unique experiences may have affected their health.
Any person who took a cleanup worker safety class is eligible to apply, even if no cleanup work was ever performed. The study is expected to follow the health of some individuals for as long as ten years. Participation in the study is confidential, and participants are protected by federal law.
The study begins with a telephone interview, which includes questions about work conducted during the spill, overall health, and job history. About 20,000 people will be included in the second phase of the study, which includes a home visit and a health screening. A $50 gift card is provided to those subjected to a home visit. Subjects will provide biological samples of blood, urine, hair and toenail clippings. A household dust sample will also be collected. Blood pressure and other physical measurements will be taken. To find out more information, or to join the study, you can call 1-855-NIH-GULF (1-855-644-4853), or visit the study web site, www.gulfstudy.nih.gov.
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