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Vol. LXII, No. 20
October 1, 2010
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NIH To Launch Gulf Oil Spill Health Study

NIH will launch a multi-year study this fall to look at the potential health effects from the oil spill in the Gulf region. The Gulf Worker Study, announced by NIH director Dr. Francis Collins in June, is a response to the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Collins pledged $10 million in NIH funding for the study’s initial phases and asked the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to lead the research project.

To help expedite the launch of the study, oil company BP will contribute an additional $10 million to NIH for this and other health research. NIH will have full autonomy regarding the distribution of the $10 million, with input from external scientific experts in environmental health who are familiar with the Gulf region.

“It was clear to us that we need to begin immediately studying the health of the workers most directly involved in responding to this crisis,” said Collins.
GDr. Dale Sandler will lead the first health study of its kind on a major oil spill in U.S. waters.

Dr. Dale Sandler will lead the first health study of its kind on a major oil spill in U.S. waters.

The study will focus on workers’ exposure to oil and dispersant products and potential health consequences such as respiratory, neurobehavioral, carcinogenic and immunological conditions. The study is also expected to evaluate mental health concerns and other oil spill-related stressors.

“Cleanup workers are likely to be the most heavily exposed of all population groups in the Gulf Coast region,” said Dr. Dale Sandler, chief of the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch and lead researcher on the study. “What we learn from this study may help us prepare for future incidents that put cleanup workers at risk.”

The current focus of NIEHS is to ensure that the Gulf communities most affected by the oil spill have a say in the study’s design and implementation, as well as input into future research directions. NIEHS is hosting webinars and other community engagement activities to obtain input.

“Community involvement and participation is critical to the success of this study,” said NIEHS director Dr. Linda Birnbaum.

NIH and the Department of Health and Human Dr. Dale Sandler will lead the first health study of its kind on a major oil spill in U.S. waters. photo: steve mccawServices have had a continuous presence in the Gulf since the explosion occurred. The NIEHS Worker Education and Training Program contributed to training more than 100,000 workers in the Gulf and distributed thousands of pocket-sized training booklets in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.—

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