04. Human Health Impacts of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill
Coordinator: Juli Trtanj, Oceans and Human Health Initiative Director, NOAA
Tracy Collier, Ph.D., Science Advisor, Oceans and Human Health Initiative, NOAA/UCAR
Jay Grimes, Ph.D., Professor of Marine Microbiology, The University of Southern Mississippi, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory
Aubrey Miller, M.D., M.P.H., Senior Medical Advisor, NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
Lynn Goldman, M.D., M.P.H., Professor and Dean, School of Public Health and Health Services, George Washington University (invited)
This session will review the ocean science community’s response to health impacts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and highlight lessons learned and success stories of coordination and collaboration; and, more broadly, ways to improve sampling, monitoring, assessment and remediation of health impacts from oil spills. It will discuss future and continued science needs and research questions; and, intersections of science/policy/outreach that could improve national OHH programs and legislation to assist the Nation in reducing known, emerging and disaster-related public health risks from the ocean.
The oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. government and partner’s response presents an excellent opportunity to discuss scientific and policy challenges associated with a changing ocean due to increased anthropogenic stressors. Understanding the connections between the health of the impacted Gulf environment and implications for human health is critical to improve management and reduce potential health risks to people.
Faced with one of the largest ecological disasters in U.S. waters, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its academic partners have been assessing and monitoring the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the health Gulf of Mexico marine wildlife, seafood supplies and coastal environments. Over 21 species of marine mammals, 5 species of sea turtles and numerous ecologically and commercially important fish and shellfish species inhabit the Gulf of Mexico.
The most obvious health impacts of oil contamination are from direct contact and smothering with oil by marine wildlife swimming in or near oil spills and from oil seeping onto shores, into estuaries.
Less obvious immediate and long-term ecological health consequences of the spill are related to:
toxicity of the compounds in the oil, such as harmful polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs);
toxicity of the dispersants used to break up the oil and how it affects the bioavailability of oil;
changes in the dynamics of microbial communities including human pathogens;
impacts of direct contact, inhalation, ingestion, and absorption of oil and dispersants on the health of marine mammals and sea turtles;
health impacts of long-term presence of oil in benthic sediments and other coastal environments.
Government and academic presenters will address these topics, recent findings, research needs, and ways to improve a coordinated oceans and human health response to sampling, monitoring, assessment, fisheries closures and remediation of health impacts from oil spills on coastal ecosystems. Understanding the short and long-term health impacts of oil on local ocean resources could provide insight into potential health risks to humans, help improve response and management of local resources and the people and economies that rely on them.
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