Tag Archives: BP

Report looks at oil-spill fallout for children, families

As the gulf oil spill dragged on, coverage of its psychological and economic aftermath gained momentum. Now, Poynter’s Al Tompkins has spotlighted coverage of what is sure to be a flood of follow-up reports and post-mortems. Based on research conducted from July 19 through 25 (the well has been effectively capped since July 15), the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University has released its “Impact on Children and Families of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill,” subtitled “Preliminary Findings of the Coastal Population Impact Study.”


Photo by kk+ via Flickr

As Tompkins points out, the study has already pulled in significant media coverage. Shaila Dewan’s story in The New York Times, for example, covered both specifics and context:

“There’s been a very overt effort by BP and the Coast Guard to project a sense that the crisis is over, but this is far from the case,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of the center and president of the Children’s Health Fund, a sponsor of the survey. “Our survey shows a persistent and overwhelming level of anxiety among families living near the coast, driven by both medical symptoms in their children as well as a substantial level of psychological stress.”

The survey included 1,200 coastal residents in Louisiana and Mississippi, most of whom live within 10 miles of the ocean.

One in five reported that their household income had dropped since the spill. Forty-three percent said they had been directly exposed to oil, either at beaches, on their property or in helping with the cleanup. Those who had been exposed were more than twice as likely to report that their children had developed physical or mental health problems since the spill. Also, families that had more concerns about their children’s mental health were more likely to report that they are considering moving.


CDC says monitoring system finds no ill from spill

The CDC has two major monitoring programs active in the Gulf of Mexico during the spill: The National Poison Data System and Biosense.

The National Poison Data System tracks calls to American poison centers. As of July 12, it had tracked 1,221 calls regarding the spill, 722 of which regarded exposure to spill-related toxins such as oil, dispersant or food contaminants. The other 499 calls came from folks seeking information about the health effects of the spill. The majority of the calls have come from the gulf states, but some originated from as far away as California, Michigan and Massachusetts.

Biosense is a public health tool that tracks real-time changes in a population’s health status. Among other things, it tracks more than 80 health facilities on the Gulf Coast and provides states affected by the spill with daily updates. According to the latest available data, it has “found no trends in the number of illnesses and injuries that would require further public health investigation.”

In addition to focusing resources of these two national programs, the CDC has collected state public health monitoring resources from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Rafael Olmeda of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel points out that the CDC has posted “Gulf Oil Spill Information for Pregnant Women,” which generally advises everyone to stay away from oil spill affected areas.


Resources for reporting on health and the oil spill

The Disaster Information Management Research Center, part of the National Library of Medicine, has assembled information about oil spills and health from a number of federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, PubMed, TOXLINE and many others.

Oil washes in on Pensacola Beach, Fla., on June 4, 2010. (Photo: R. Scot Duncan, Ph.D.)
Oil washes in on Pensacola Beach, Fla., on June 4, 2010. (Photo: R. Scot Duncan, Ph.D.)

The Department of Health and Human Services also has a page devoted to its health response to the spill. It includes links to oil-spill related pages for Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Those pages may provide some useful resources for reporters covering the Deepwater Horizon disaster, as some people on the Gulf Coast are questioning the health effects of the oil spill and the dispersants being used to help clean it up.

Reporters have been looking at the known effects and offering advice on how to stay safe. Mike Stobbe, an Associated Press reporter and AHCJ board member, reports that the CDC and EPA have not set up a system for tracking health complaints related to the spill, but that states have. The Times-Picayune‘s John Pope took a look at health complaints collected by Louisiana’s department of health.

Brian Winter, of USA Today, took a different angle, reporting that Alaska residents suffered significant mental health consequences after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and so Louisiana officials have deployed crisis counselors.

And one AP photographer thought immersion journalism was the way to go – literally. Rich Matthews jumped off a boat 40 miles from shore to get video of the oil and wrote about the experience and about trying to clean off enough of the oil that the captain would let him back on the boat.