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NIH launches study of health effects on oil spill cleanup workers (3/2)

March 2, 2011
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A new study examining the possible health effects of the Gulf of Mexico's Deepwater Horizon oil spill on 55,000 cleanup workers and volunteers got underway last week in towns across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

The GuLF STUDY (Gulf Long-term Follow-up Study) is the largest health study of its kind ever conducted among cleanup workers and volunteers, and is one component of a comprehensive federal response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The study is being conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health, and is expected to last up to 10 years. Many agencies, researchers, outside experts, as well as members of the local community, have provided input into how the study should be designed and implemented.

"Over the last 50 years, there have been 40 known oil spills around the world. Only eight of these spills have been studied for human health effects," said Dale Sandler, Ph.D., chief of the Epidemiology Branch at NIEHS and principal investigator of the GuLF STUDY. "The goal of the GuLF STUDY is to help us learn if oil spills and exposure to crude oil and dispersants affect physical and mental health."

Over time, the GuLF STUDY will generate important data that may help inform policy decisions on health care and health services in the region. Findings may also influence responses to other oil spills in the future. "We are enrolling workers and volunteers because they were closest to the disaster and had the highest potential for being exposed to oil and dispersants," said Sandler. The GuLF STUDY will reach out to some of the 100,000 people who took the cleanup worker safety training and to others who were involved in some aspect of the oil spill cleanup. The goal is to enroll 55,000 people in the study. Individuals may be eligible for the study if they:

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