|NIH launches largest oil spill health study|
|March 09, 2011|
UNC epidemiologists participate in assessment of 55,000 cleanup workers
A new federal study will look at possible health effects of the Gulf of Mexico's Deepwater Horizon oil spill upon 55,000 cleanup workers and volunteers across the United States, with a particular focus on persons in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. University of North Carolina epidemiology faculty members are working with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to conduct the study, which is expected to last up to 10 years.
NIEHS is part of the National Institutes of Health.
The Gulf Long-term Follow-up Study (GuLF STUDY), the largest health study of its kind ever conducted among cleanup workers and volunteers, is one component of a comprehensive federal response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Many agencies, researchers, outside experts and members of the local community have provided input as to how the study should be conducted.
"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, PhD, chief of the Epidemiology Branch at NIEHS, adjunct professor of epidemiology in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health 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."
Over time, the GuLF STUDY will generate important data that may help inform policy decisions on health care and health services in the region. Findings also may influence responses to other oil spills in the future.
Lawrence Engel, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and associate scientist in the Epidemiology Branch at NIEHS, is a lead investigator on the GuLF STUDY and has played a key role in its design and implementation.
A third lead investigator on the study, Richard Kwok, PhD, is a three-time alumnus of the UNC public health school's epidemiology department. Kwok received a Bachelor of Science in Public Health ('97), Master of Science in Public Health ('99) and Doctor of Philosophy ('03) at UNC.
"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.
The study was developed to make participation as easy and convenient as possible. In addition, the GuLF STUDY incorporates safeguards to protect the privacy and confidentiality of personal information.
All participants will be asked to complete an initial telephone interview and provide updated contact information once a year. During the telephone interview, participants will be asked questions about the work they did with the oil spill cleanup and about their health, lifestyles and job histories. About 20,000 participants will be invited to take part in the second phase of the study, which involves a home visit and follow-up telephone interviews in subsequent years. Small samples of blood, urine, toenail clippings, hair, and house dust will be collected during the home visit, and clinical measurements such as blood pressure, height and weight, urine glucose and lung function will be taken.
If at any time in the course of the study, the need for mental or medical health care is evident, participants will be given information on available health-care providers or will be referred for care. The study leaders have up-to-date information on health-care providers, and a medical referral process is in place as part of the study. Materials will be available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.
The NIH is funding the GuLF STUDY. BP has provided a small part of the funds to NIH specifically for research on the health of Gulf area communities following the spill, but BP is not involved in the study.
For more information, call the GuLF STUDY toll-free at 1-855-NIH-GULF (1-855-644-4853), or visit the GuLF STUDY website.
A podcast that includes remarks from study leader Dr. Dale Sanders is available on the National Institutes of Health website.
|Last updated March 20, 2011|