Posted: Jul 23, 2012 5:18 PM by Associated Press
HOUMA, La. (AP) - Scientists studying long-term effects of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill are looking for 15,000 more people who helped with the cleanup, even for one day. Nearly 25,000 former oil spill workers already have signed up for what the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences says is the largest study ever of long-term effects in oil spill workers. Plans for the ten-year study say the former oil spill workers' health will be compared to that of about 6,000 people who did not work on the spill to see if the people who were exposed to oil and dispersant have more respiratory, neurological, blood, or psychological or mental health problems than those who were not. It's been hard to find people who worked on the spill because many have moved and changed phone numbers, lead researcher Dale Sandler told The Courier (http://bit.ly/MzQn5y). Sandler is chief of the epidemiology branch at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which began recruiting workers for the study in March 2011, less than a year after the spill. "We are recruiting workers who had anything to do with cleaning up the spill," Sandler said, from collecting with oily boom and tar balls to working in food service. The hope is to draw participants from a variety of jobs and experiences so researchers can figure out how to better protect workers during future spills. The $30 million Gulf Long-term Followup study, nicknamed the GuLF study, will focus on workers' exposure to chemicals, track illnesses and examine lifestyle and seafood-consumption habits. Sandler said it's too early to say if workers are suffering any health effects directly tied to the spill. But there are many people, both those who worked on the spill and those who lived on the Gulf Coast near the spill, who are still worried about health impacts from exposure to oil and dispersants. There are also many people who have been out of work since the spill and are suffering the stress-related health impacts related to that. They may be having trouble paying bills and getting needed medical care, she said. "Whether it's the spill or the something happening in the community, there are people who have needs that aren't being met," Sandler said. "Our study will shed some light on that." Volunteers will take a phone survey detailing their oil-spill work, health, lifestyle and job history. Some will also be asked to participate in an in-home exam with periodic follow-ups from researchers. Researchers will collect blood samples and additional medical information. After the exam, participants receive a gift card worth $50. All of the medical and personal information collected will be kept private and confidential, Sandler said. If a person involved in the study wants to request personal results for a spill-related health claim, researchers will provide it. But federal law prevents them from sharing that information with anyone else. Sharon Guathe, director of BISCO, a community nonprofit group that has worked with bayou residents since the spill, said she knows a lot of people may be frustrated by the numerous studies into the spill. But the work is important to create a clear and scientifically sound picture of what is happening to people after the spill. Having evidence that something is wrong will also make it easier for people to get help, Gauthe added. "There are a whole lot of different studies going on right now, and it is understandable that people get frustrated and think nothing will come of it. But we can only benefit in the future from being involved," she said. "Each one has a different purpose." Gauthe said BISCO is helping to sign up workers for another study that's looking at the training workers received before the spill. That study aims to find out if the training was adequate, and if not, what should be done in the future. To participate in that study, contact Gauthe at 985-227-9042 or by email at mybisco(at)yahoo.com. To participate in the Gulf Long-term Followup study, call the toll-free number, 1-855-644-4853, or visit the study website, nihgulfstudy.org.