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Government Begins Health Study of Gulf Spill Cleanup Workers and Volunteers

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March 2, 2011

A 10-year study will assess the affects of exposure to oil and chemical dispersants on the health of workers and volunteers involved in cleanup operations after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health, has launched the GuLF STUDY (Gulf Long-term Follow-up Study), the largest study ever of its kind, to learn if people who worked in cleanup efforts after the Horizon spill develop adverse health conditions caused by the oil and dispersants.

"Over the last 50 years, there have been 40 known oil spills around the world. Only eight of these spills have been studied for human health effects," said Dale Sandler, Ph.D., chief of the Epidemiology Branch at NIEHS and principal investigator of the GuLF STUDY. "The goal of the GuLF STUDY is to help us learn if oil spills and exposure to crude oil and dispersants affect physical and mental health."

The first phase of the GuLF STUDY will involve 55,000 of the 100,000 people who responded to the Gulf spill crisis. Researchers will interview participants by phone with questions about the work they did with the oil spill cleanup, and about their health, lifestyle and job history. Researchers will then ask about 20,000 participants to take part in the second study phase involving a home visit and follow-up telephone interviews in subsequent years. They will collect samples of blood, urine, toenail clippings, hair and house dust during the home visit and take clinical measurements such as blood pressure, height and weight, urine glucose and lung function.

"We are enrolling workers and volunteers because they were closest to the disaster and had the highest potential for being exposed to oil and dispersants," said Sandler.

According to Nola.com, the first 1000 study invitations went out to potential participants in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida on Monday.

The National Institutes of Health has allocated $17.8 million dollars for the study. Although a small part of funding, just $6 million, came to the NIH from BP, the oil company is not involved in the study.

People who worked the spill operations have reported health conditions such as respiratory issues, long lasting skin rashes, dizziness, watering eyes and a feeling of being sick all the time, reports The Destin Log.

Study data will influence future policy decisions on health care and health services in the Gulf region. It may also affect oil spill response in the future.