by Sharon Boston
University of Maryland Medical Center
February 17, 2011
from EurekAlert Website
The explosion and fire on a BP-licensed oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 had huge environmental and economic effects, with millions of gallons of oil leaking into the water for more than five months.
It also had significant psychological impact on people living in coastal communities, even in those areas that did not have direct oil exposure, according to researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who worked in collaboration with the University of Florida, Gainesville.
Study results will be published in the February 17 online edition of Environmental Health Perspectives, a publication of the National Institutes of Health.
The Maryland investigators, who traveled to the region soon after the spill, worked with Gulf Coast community leaders to get "real-time" assessments of the acute impacts of the spill.
Their goal was to measure the acute psychological distress, coping resilience and perceived risk (concerns about the environmental impact and potential health consequences) of people living along the Gulf Coast.
By doing this, they could help identify the potential mental health needs of the Northwest Gulf Coast communities.
They examined the psychological impact in two fishing communities:
Baldwin County had direct oil exposure; Franklin County did not.
The researchers defined indirect impact as a place where oil did not physically reach the coastline, but where anticipation of the oil spread significantly affected the community's recreation, tourism and fishing industries.
The people in Florida, where oil had not reached shore, showed similar elevated levels of anxiety and depression as those living in Alabama who had direct oil exposure.
Both groups had similar high
levels of worry about the impact of the spill on the environment,
health and seafood safety.
These people also had lower scores on resilience and may have fewer psychological resources to bounce back from adversity.
The study on psychological impact built on a research program by University of Florida investigators who were already in the area to study the acute environmental and health impact of the spill.
Through contacts with local community
and religious leaders, trade associations, the University of Florida
extension office and other agencies, the Maryland researchers
recruited 71 residents in Florida and 23 from Alabama for the
The team also looked at whether the participants had cognitive symptoms of neurotoxicity as a result of exposure to oil and chemical dispersants. These included assessments of attention, memory, and dexterity and speed (through a pegboard puzzle task).
The researchers also asked the participants about what they were doing to cope with the situation, which could range from prayer and meditation to increased use of alcohol and other drugs.