Gulf Oil Spill Impacts Families, Children's Health
BP may have finally capped the gushing well, but the Gulf oil spill continues to have a significant, even devastating impact on families and children living in the Gulf Coast region in Louisiana and Mississippi. A new survey conducted after the Deepwater Horizon well was capped found evidence of potentially long-lasting effects of the spill on physical, mental, and economic health.
Survey Names Oil Spill Challenges on Health
Oil may no longer be flooding into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon well, but the oil continues to seriously affect the lives of both clean up workers and residents of the Gulf Coast, as well as the plant and animal life. Investigators at Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCPD), along with the Children’s Health Fund and The Marist Poll of Poughkeepsie, NY, conducted a survey of more than 1,200 adults who live within 10 miles of the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Mississippi to determine the impact of the oil disaster on their health.
The researchers identified evidence of critical and potentially long-lasting effects of the oil spill on families and their children. For example:
- More than 40 percent of adults surveyed reported they had had direct exposure to the oil spill or the clean-up operations. Of this group, about 40 percent had experienced skin irritation and respiratory problems
- More than 33 percent of parents say their children have experienced physical or mental health distress related to the oil spill
- Twenty percent of families have experienced a decline in income since the oil spill, and 8 percent have lost their jobs
- Nearly 27 percent of coastal residents say they may have to move away. Among families that earn less than $25,000, the estimate is 36.3 percent.
- More than 70 percent of parents say their children are spending less time boating, swimming, and playing in the sand, and 21 percent report their children are spending less time playing outdoors
- More than 50 percent of all coastal residents feel BP’s response was “poor,” and 41.3 percent say Obama’s response to the disaster was poor
According to Irwin Redlener, MD, director of the NCPD and president of the Children’s Health Fund, the survey results show “there is a significant and persistent public health crisis underscored by the large number of children with medical and psychological problems related to the oil disaster.” This crisis is compounded by the fact that there are few or no pediatricians in some of the hardest hit areas, including the lower two-thirds of Plaquemines Parish.
Given that the Gulf coastal areas are still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, the oil spill is taxing an already fragile population. Redlener noted that federal agencies need to be involved in developing guidelines to address both the short- and long-term health problems associated with families and their children remaining in the impacted areas, as well as “recommendations, based on known science, on when families would be advised to move out of the community entirely.”
Part of this effort, according to Redlener, should include participation by BP, which should provide funds to the appropriate agencies that are focused on assessing and caring for affected families and their children. For their part, the NCDP will be following a cohort of at least 1,000 children and adults in the Gulf Coast region to monitor the ongoing physical and mental health impact of the oil spill.
Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health