The US National Institutes of Health said Tuesday it will use $10 million in BP (NYSE:BP) funds to conduct a multi-year study to analyze potential health hazards caused by the world’s largest-ever oil spill.
The Gulf Worker Study, commencing this fall, is in response to the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig that killed 11 men and sent millions of gallons of oil spewing in the Gulf.
The NIH will also contribute $10 million of its own money to fund the study’s initial phases, being conducted through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, which is a 10-year, $500 million independent research program established by BP to mitigate the environmental impacts and potential health hazards caused by the spill.
“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 NIH director Francis S. Collins, noting BP’s donation will help accelerate the process.
The study will focus on workers’ exposure to oil and dispersant products and potential health consequences, such as respiratory, neurobehavioral, carcinogenic and immunological conditions.
Mental health concerns and other spill-related stressors, including job loss, family disruption and financial uncertainties will also be studied.
“Clean-up workers are likely to be the most heavily exposed of all population groups in the Gulf Coast region,” said Dale Sandler, Ph.D., chief of the Epidemiology Branch at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), which has been named by NIH to head the project.
Workers with varying levels of exposure, from those involved in oil burning and skimming to the shoreline cleaners, will be enrolled in the study.
“What we learn from this study may help us prepare for future incidents that put clean-up workers at risk,” Sandler said.
The NIEHS said it will seek engagement from the Gulf communities to help with the study’s design and implementation.