271651 Epidemiologic research in the context of an environmental disaster: Lessons from the GuLF STUDY

Monday, October 29, 2012 : 9:30 AM - 9:45 AM

Dale P. Sandler, PhD , Epidemiology Branch, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, NC
The oil spill following the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is larger than any previous spill and disrupted the lives of thousands of workers and communities along the Gulf Coast. Surprisingly little is known about short and long-term health effects of oil spill exposures. Shortly after the spill NIEHS began a prospective study of the health of individuals involved in oil spill clean-up. Workers were largely residents of Gulf Coast communities previously affected by other man-made and natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. The GuLF STUDY plans to enroll and follow a cohort of 40,000 oil-spill clean-up workers and conduct home visits for clinical assessment and biological specimen collection in a subcohort of 15,000. Nearly 25,000 workers enrolled as of July 2012. Opportunities for exposure to oil during the disaster, unemployment and economic disadvantage, mental distress, and self-reported health symptoms are highly correlated making it especially challenging to distinguish health changes due to oil spill exposures from those due to other factors. The study is attempting to balance the need for scientific rigor with the need to be responsive to the concerns of community members and workers, many of whom have unaddressed health care needs that may be unrelated to exposures during the oil spill clean-up but are potentially exacerbated by the emotional and economic toll of the protracted spill.

Learning Areas:
Chronic disease management and prevention
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Describe the challenges of implementing epidemiologic research in the midst of an environmental disaster. Describe the design and progress of the GuLF STUDY, the largest ever long-term study of potential health effects associated with oil spills. Explain the analytic challenges of attributing health changes to specific chemical exposures related to the oil spill.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the Chief of the Epidemiology Branch in the Intramural Program of the NIEHS and Principal Investigator of three large cohort studies including the GuLF STUDY which focuses on the health of individuals who were involved in cleaning up the oil spill after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.