LSU Survey Chronicles BP Oil Spill Health Impacts in Louisiana

Two Louisiana State University (LSU) sociology professors have released a survey detailing some of the health impacts the BP oil spill is having on people living in Louisiana’s coastal communities. According to the two professors who conducted the study, those impacts are “real and substantial.”

“Louisiana’s coastal communities are the most geographically proximate human settlements to the actual disaster site,” Professor Matthew Lee, said in a statement announcing the survey results. “It is imperative that we begin work now to better understand the human impacts of this situation because the results are expected to be long-lasting and diverse.”

To conduct their study, Professor Lee and his colleague, Troy Blanchard, in conjunction with the university’s Public Policy Research Lab (PPRL), conducted a telephone survey beginning June 17, less than 60 days after the onset of the Deepwater Horizon blowout. PPRL investigators conducted more than 900 interviews with coastal Louisiana residents near the spill site.

According to the LSU press release, prominent findings included:

• Self-rated stress has more than doubled since the oil spill, as compared to a year ago.
• Nearly 60 percent of the sample population reported feeling almost constant worry about the oil spill during the week before being interviewed.
• More than eight out of 10 respondents worry over family, friends and community survival due to complications caused by the oil spill. Seven in 10 are worried about having to move because of it.
• More than 35 percent reported experiencing headaches or migraines or feeling sick to their stomach some of the time or almost constantly in the week before the interview because of their worry over the oil spill; nearly 43 percent reported being unable to focus on their usual jobs or tasks because of their worry over the situation in the Gulf.

“Right now, the data suggest that significant public health resources may be required to assist residents in the coastal parishes of Louisiana in dealing with the consequences of this disaster,” Professor Blanchard said.

Professors Blanchard and Lee are not among the first to raise serious concerns about the health consequences of the BP oil spill for people living and working near it. Last month, the state of Louisiana reported that it had so far received 162 complaints of oil spill-related illnesses. Of those, 128 involved people working on oil spill cleanup, and of those 21 have so far resulted in hospitalizations. Reported symptoms include dizziness, nausea and breathing issues.

The Louisiana report said some of the workers reporting illnesses appeared to have been exposed to fumes from dispersants that were deployed in the Gulf. In its latest summary of chemical testing, posted to its website earlier this month, BP said 2-butoxyethanol was detected at levels up to 10 parts per million (ppm) in more than 20 percent of offshore responders and 15 percent of those near shore. 2-butoxyethanol is an ingredient the Corexit 9527 dispersant that BP phased out after spraying it in the Gulf during the early days of the spill. The same chemical has been linked to illnesses among people who worked on the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.

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