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Environmental Factor

January 2011

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Oil spill update - NIEHS activities in the Gulf

By Christine Flowers
January 2011

Dale Sandler, Ph.D.

NIEHS Epidemiology Branch Chief Dale Sandler, Ph.D., is principal investigator for the GuLF STUDY. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The Gulf oil spill may be largely out of the headlines these days, but NIEHS continues its efforts to better understand the impact on the health of the people of the region. NIEHS has activated programs throughout the institute to provide timely and responsive services following the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill:

  • Safety Training - Within days of the explosion, the NIEHS Worker Education and Training Program facilitated safety training for more than 100,000 cleanup workers.
  • GuLF STUDY - The NIEHS Epidemiology Branch is heading the NIH GuLF (Gulf Longitudinal Follow-up) Study on the long-term health effects of the oil spill.
  • Toxicology Research - The NIEHS National Toxicology Program, working together with federal partners, is conducting studies to better understand the chemistry, biological fate, and toxicological effects of crude oil and dispersant components and breakdown products.
  • Research Consortia Funding - NIEHS will fund grants for researcher-community partnerships to address the needs of affected communities.
  • Other Research Grants - The NIEHS grants program currently supports research and outreach efforts on the health effects of exposure to oil and dispersants.

Details are available online(

A long-term presence in the Gulf

NIEHS has hosted a series of community forums, stakeholder visits, webinars, and instructional meetings throughout the five-state Gulf region in order to promote awareness, participation and coordination for all these programs among local residents, state and local health departments, regional universities and researchers, and federal agency partners.

The GuLF STUDY( will focus on exposure to oil and dispersant products and potential health consequences such as respiratory, neurobehavioral, carcinogenic, dermal, and immunological conditions. The study will also evaluate mental health concerns and other oil spill-related stressors such as job loss, family disruption, and financial uncertainties.

NIEHS will invite approximately 55,000 people to participate in the study. Building on an extensive roster of cleanup workers developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the NIEHS will supplement the roster with other lists of workers compiled by BP, contractors, and community organizations. The study will enroll cleanup workers, volunteers, and community members with varying levels of potential exposure including workers involved in oil burning, skimming and booming equipment decontamination, wildlife cleanup, and also those with lower exposure such as shoreline cleanup workers.

The study will also recruit some people who completed the worker safety training, but did not do any clean-up work. Members of the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. National Guard, and other federal agencies who were called to respond will also participate in the GuLF STUDY.

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