Mother and child in Louisiana.
Study Finds Significant Impact on Health, Economic Stability, and Daily Routines
As the acute phase of the Gulf oil spill transitions to a chronic phase, marked by long-term challenges to the public health, environment and economy, researchers at Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness interviewed over 1,200 adults living within 10 miles of the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Mississippi, in collaboration with the Children’s Health Fund and The Marist Poll of Poughkeepsie, NY. The survey, conducted by telephone in July after the Deepwater Horizon well was capped, found evidence of significant and potentially lasting impact of the disaster on the health, mental health, and economic fortunes of residents and their children and on the way they live their everyday lives. The findings have implications for health and economic policies going forward.
[Listen to NPR interview with Dr. Irwin Redlener regarding the survey.]
Among the key survey findings:
“Over the last few days we are seeing an effort by officials who are suggesting that, as the oil is less visible on the surface, the ‘crisis is over.’ Clearly, this is far from the case,” says Irwin Redlener, MD, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCPD) at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and president of the Children’s Health Fund (CHF). “As shown by our survey, done after the well was capped, 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. These concerns will need to be assessed and managed in these coastal communities where there are few or no pediatricians and vastly insufficient mental health professional capacity.”
The survey found a dramatic relationship between economic vulnerability and health effects. Adults with household incomes under $25,000 were by far the most likely to report physical and mental health effects for themselves and also among their children. “Much the way Hurricane Katrina had its greatest effect on those with the least, the oil spill is also having a greater impact on those coastal residents who are economically vulnerable, says David Abramson, PhD, MPH, director of Research at NCDP and assistant professor of clinical sociomedical sciences at the Mailman School. “In an area still recovering from the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, the oil spill represents a significant test of a population’s resiliency.”
Dr. Redlener, a pediatrician and professor at the Mailman School, outlined a number of implications for policymakers and others: “Guidelines need to be developed, with active participation of relevant federal agencies, with respect to the short- and long-term health risks of remaining in affected communities. This should include recommendations, based on known science, on when families would be advised to move out of the community entirely.” He also believes BP should provide funds to state and local agencies involved with providing assessment and care to affected families. “Children are particularly susceptible to the consequences of this disaster and need to have special resources focused on their needs.”
The National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia’s Mailman School, which designed the survey, intends to follow a cohort of at least 1,000 children and adults in the region to determine the continuing health and mental health consequences of the oil spill. Meanwhile the Children's Health Fund will bring badly needed mobile pediatric care to the region shortly. “There are literally no pediatricians in the lower two-thirds of Plaquemines Parish,” notes Dr. notes Dr. Redlener, “and this is one of the worst hit areas.”
One of the Children's Health Fund’s mobile pediatric care units.