Environmental Factor, August 2011, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
NIH-funded research network to explore oil spill health effects
Birnbaum led NIEHS/NTP efforts in the Gulf in the immediate aftermath of the spill,and, under her leadership, NIEHS and NTP have made long-term commitments to the people of the region. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Collman oversaw the NIEHS cleanup training initiative carried out by the Institute's Worker Education and Training Program, directed by Chip Hughes. DERT is managing oil-spill related grants and efforts by the NIEHS Superfund Research Program. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Thompson, shown at a recent NIEHS Superfund Research Program talk, and SPHB staff are responsible for direct administration of the new grants. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
An NIH-funded network of researchers will evaluate potential harmful effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on reproduction and birth outcomes, the cardiorespiratory system, and behavior and mental health. NIEHS announced the new grant awards in a press release issued July 7.
The network of community and university partnerships, under the leadership of NIEHS, will conduct research to evaluate the level of potentially harmful contaminants in air, water, and seafood, and assess their relationship to health outcomes.
The five-year, $25.2 million program will support population-based and laboratory research at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, New Orleans; Tulane University, New Orleans; the University of Florida, Gainesville; and The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. In contrast to the NIEHS GuLF STUDY (Gulf Long-term Follow-up Study)(https://gulfstudy.nih.gov/en/index.html), which is focused on the oil spill cleanup workers and volunteers, this new research will concentrate on the range of acute and long-term health effects on the general public.
Program to focus on community health and resiliency in Gulf region
As an integrated network, these four institutions will collaborate on approaches and share results to better understand the interplay and effects of multiple stressors on human health. To ensure research activities are responsive to the needs of local communities in the Gulf Coast region, the universities will partner with more than a dozen community organizations to incorporate local concerns and more effectively communicate research findings.
"From individuals, to families, to communities, this initiative shows a commitment to better understand the long-term health effects of oil spills," said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of NIEHS/NTP. "Our number one goal is to provide strong science that will help people now and during future disasters."
"Throughout the Gulf region, scientists and community groups will work hand in hand to address the needs of those most impacted," said Gwen Collman, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT), which will closely monitor the progress of the research components. "A focus will be on the physical and psychological health of vulnerable populations, especially pregnant women, children, fishermen, immigrants, and minorities."
In addition to sharing data and research results, each of the four institutions will implement a community resilience project, which seeks to better understand how local populations respond to, and recover from, disasters. Through their partnerships with community-based organizations, researchers will assess how culture, social networks, and other determinants may enhance pre-event preparedness and post-event recovery.
"This region has seen its share of disasters, and many communities have shown remarkable resilience," said Claudia Thompson, Ph.D., chief of the Susceptibility and Population Health Branch (SPHB) at NIEHS. "One goal of the research projects is to understand what keeps these communities together, so that other communities can benefit."
A trans-NIH initiative
In addition to NIEHS, many other NIH components are contributing support to the program, including the National Cancer Institute; National Center for Research Resources; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institute of Mental Health; National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities; National Institute of Nursing Research; and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research. Of the $25.2 million in total funding, $3.2 million was provided by BP to NIH specifically for research on the health of Gulf area communities following the oil spill, although BP is not involved in the program or any of its research.
Since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, NIEHS has maintained a continuous and ongoing presence in the Gulf oil spill recovery effort. NIEHS spearheaded efforts to train more than 140,000 cleanup workers through its Worker Education and Training Program. Also, NIEHS is currently leading the GuLF STUDY, the largest health study of its kind ever conducted among cleanup workers and volunteers. The GuLF STUDY has been developed to last up to 10 years and evaluate the health of 55,000 people.
(Ed Kang is a public affairs specialist in the Office of Communications and Public Liaison, and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)
Components of the new research network
The project titles, universities, and principal investigators (PI) are:
- Women and Their Children's Gulf Health Consortium - Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center New Orleans, PI Edward Trapido, Sc.D.
- Trans-disciplinary Research Consortium for Gulf Resilience on Women's Health, - Tulane University, PI Maureen Lichtveld, M.D.
- Health Impact of Deepwater Horizon Spill in Eastern Gulf Coast Communities - University of Florida, PI J. Glenn Morris Jr., M.D.
- Gulf Coast Health Alliance: Health Risks Related to the Macondo Spill - The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, PI Cornelis Elferink, Ph.D.