Protocols needed to deal with health effects from disasters

April 7, 2011

Researchers at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans School of Medicine have called for the urgent development of protocols to deal with the health effects of disasters.

They point out that the magnitude of the impact of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill on human health, the environment, and the economy remains unknown. Their study assesses the known toxicologic consequences of oil spill exposures, but concludes that they are complex to assess because they involve multiple sources of contaminants and multiple points of exposure.

They found that 48% of students returning to schools in New Orleans, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines parishes had mental health symptoms in 2005–2006. In 2009–2010 (before the oil spill), 30% continued to have symptoms, suggesting that a complex or repeated trauma increases vulnerability to mental health conditions.

The study recommends that a number of steps be taken now, including biospecimen banking, short and long-term medical surveillance and monitoring of workers, development of psychosocial interventions, and rapid development and implementation of protocols for baseline clinical evaluations, including respiratory functions.

Ref.: Howard J. Osofsky et al., The Gulf Oil Spill, New England Journal of Medicine, April 7, 2011