Apr. 20 marked 4 years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The NIH response included worker training and research into potential health effects of that work. NIEHS took the lead in that effort, training more than 100,000 clean-up workers and initiating the GuLF Study, the largest study ever conducted on the potential health effects of an oil spill.
At a recent media teleconference, NIEHS presented preliminary observations from the ongoing GuLF Study and urged participants to stay involved.
The study enrolled more than 33,000 people, each of whom completed a telephone interview. A subset of 11,000 completed home exams. Dr. Dale Sandler explained that researchers are now contacting all participants to interview them regarding current health status. Participants living within 60 miles of New Orleans or Mobile, Ala., are invited to take part in more detailed clinical exams.
Sandler, lead researcher for the GuLF Study and head of the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch, reported that preliminary observations indicate clean-up workers were about 30 percent more likely to have moderate to severe depression than residents who did no clean-up work. Results were similar for anxiety.
“It’s important that the 33,000 people enrolled in this study stay involved, because these early findings need to be followed up over time,” said Sandler. “At this point, it is hard to know if the increased frequency of depression and anxiety in workers is because of exposure to oil and dispersants or something else about the oil spill experience and its aftermath,” she said.
“If participants haven’t already done so, we encourage them to call 1-855-NIH-GULF (1-855-644-4853) to participate in the health exam and other study activities,” Sandler said.—Robin Mackar