IOM Report Outlines Gulf Spill Zone Health Surveillance

Based on a June 22-23 workshop, the report comes after the spewing BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico has been capped. The response involved more than 1 million gallons of dispersants and more than 40,000 workers.

The Institute of Medicine published a report Tuesday that summarizes its June 22-23 workshop to begin planning for health surveillance about the effects of the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill. The spewing well has been capped, but damage assessment remains following a  response that involved more than 1 million gallons of dispersants and more than 40,000 workers. HHS asked IOM to convene the conference and to identify populations at increased risk for adverse health effects, review current knowledge and identify knowledge gaps about human health effects of exposure to oil, weathered oil products, and dispersants, and to explore a framework for short-term and long-term surveillance for adverse health effects.

The report is available free of charge on the IOM website. It says long-term surveillance and related research are critical to identifying acute, chronic, and long-term health effects of oil spills because only a handful of studies have explored those effects. A sign of the level of uncertainty involved is that several workshop participants predicted the gulf disaster probably will have a larger effect on the psychological health of affected communities than on residents' physical health because of serious, prolonged disruptions to the social environment and local economies.

Participants stressed the surveillance system used must monitor all populations in order to establish a baseline for comparison but also must focus on particularly vulnerable or at-risk populations. Chapter 2 of the report, titled "At-Risk Populations and Potential Hazards," focused on different hazards, routes of exposure, and at-risk populations. Panelists discussed not only how different populations (e.g., fishermen, cleanup workers, and residents of the affected communities) are exposed to different hazards related to the oil spill, particular population vulnerabilities, and available preventive steps that can affect the likelihood of experiencing health problems.

Chapter 6 examines the organization and delivery of health care services and how to engage the public in risk communication and surveillance.

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