Studies at four Gulf Coast universities will focus on continuing fear that last year's oil spill is making people sick, especially if they eat lots of fish.
All four will look at people's mental and physical health over the next five years. Three will also look for oil-related chemicals in fish landed by people whose catch makes up a big part of their own food. The National Institutes of Health are providing $25 million to look for lingering results of the spill, which released more than 200 million gallons of oil over five months into the Gulf.
Tulane University's medical school is getting $6.5 million;LSU's medical school $3.5 million, the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston $7.8 million and the University of Florida at Gainesville about $7 million.
LSUHSC will enroll a total of 8,000 participants-4,000 women in the general population of seven parishes affected by the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill (Orleans, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, Lafourche, Terrebonne, and St. Mary), plus 2,000 wives of individuals who were involved in the clean-up, as well as 2,000 children.
"We are interested in what women living in the most affected parishes experienced in terms of exposure to oil and its clean-up, with the goal of monitoring the physical, behavioral, social, and mental health effects over time," notes principal investigator, Edward Trapido, ScD, FACE, LSUHSC Public Health Associate Dean for Research, Professor and Wendell Gauthier Chair of Cancer Epidemiology. "Only by doing a long term study can we truly assess what the effects will be."
LSUHSC will interview women over the telephone, and biologic samples will be collected by members of the study team to look for evidence of exposure to the compounds in the oil/dispersant which have been considered to be dangerous.
The $3.5 million study will follow participants over a five-year period to determine not only the physical and mental health effects, but also how the oil spill affected them in terms of their family interactions and connections in the community. The team will look at changes in eating seafood, pregnancy issues, resiliency, and economic well-being in an area that has suffered major natural and man-made disasters.
"We have focused on women and their children, because issues related to food choices, family and neighborhood interactions, pregnancy concerns, and family budgets often are dealt with by women in these parishes," explains Dr. Trapido. "There is so much hear-say information about the oil spill, but without a systematic research effort, we will never know the answers."
Many residents of the communities in Southeast Louisiana coastal parishes have been affected by the oil spill, while still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures. LSU Health Sciences Center has contracted researchers from Columbia University who have studied the effects of Hurricane Katrina in many of the same parishes.
"Having attended and participated in community meetings over the past year, we have heard the concerns," says Dr. Trapido. "And working with the communities, the LSUHSC New Orleans School of Public Health wants to help provide answers."