Considered the largest accident in the history of petroleum industry, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill released 4.1 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico over a period of 87 days. Years after BP capped the Macondo Well in July 2010, Gulf Coast communities are still grappling with the economic, environmental, and social impacts of this disaster and a slow, torturous recovery.
What is the Gulf Coast Population Impact Project?
This project, led by the National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) at Columbia University and the Program on Population Recovery and Resiliency at New York University, is focused on understanding the long-term impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on children in the Gulf Coast region. We have conducted three phases, to date:
Phase 1: In the weeks following the April 2010 explosion, we spoke to parents at Town Hall meetings in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Phase 2: In July 2010 we interviewed 1,200 parents who lived within ten miles of the water. At the time, parents were very concerned about the potential long-term health impacts of the spill.
Phase 3: Between April and October, 2012, with funding from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, we launched a four state study to answer two overarching questions: (1) Where are the communities whose children have had the greatest health problems since the oil spill? (2) What factors contributed to these health problems? This phase had two elements to it – a household survey, and a “community engagement” effort.
Phase 4: The Programmatic Initiative – National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) has now launched Project SHOREline to develop and promote Skills, Hope, Opportunities, Research, and Engagement among Gulf Coast youth.
View the interactive project timeline for the full story and access to more information.
The 1,437 parents whom we surveyed reported considerable exposure to the oil spill as well as a number of physical and mental health problems among their children. The key findings were:
Exposure to the oil spill: Over half of the parents interviewed in these highly-impacted communities reported that their children had some type of oil spill-related exposure, whether it was through physical, environmental, or economic factors. One in every five parents said their children had direct contact with the oil; one in four reported smelling strong oil-related odors; and two of every five said their household had lost income or a job since the oil spill.
Health effects: A little over 40% of parents in these highly-impacted communities reported some type of health effect experienced by their children since the oil spill. About one in five parents said their children had experienced breathing problems and a similar number reported emotional or behavioral issues. One in seven reported skin problems.
Exposure matters: All other things being equal – regardless as to where people live, how much money they make, or whether or not they have health insurance and a family doctor for their children – parents who reported that their children had been directly exposed to the oil spill or dispersants were three times as likely to report new physical or mental health problems among their children when compared to those parents who reported that their children had not been exposed. Parents in households that had lost income or a job since the spill were nearly twice as likely to report new physical and mental health problems among their children.
Community Interviews Findings
The survey and focus groups revealed the following:
Parents were greatly concerned for their children’s health and well-being, particularly a lack of access to high-quality pediatric care, specialty and mental healthcare, and to providers who accepted Medicaid.
Parents also worried that unsupervised and “latchkey” children and dwindling recreational and occupational opportunities for children were leading to many harmful or unsafe behaviors and harming children’s mental health and social well-being.
Parents (and often caregiving grandparents) who were unable to provide their families with such basics as food, clothing, or shelter were experiencing depression and diminished parenting skills, and engaging in harmful or addictive behaviors.
Community leaders, school officials, and providers believed that communities were losing their ability to sustain economic opportunities and safety net programs, and to retain enough healthcare providers to meet the needs of families and children.
Communities suffered if their culture or livelihood was directly dependent upon the Gulf waters or a part of the long supply chains that supported the coastal economy. For some communities, these negative impacts compounded pre-existing problems of social isolation and poverty and lingering damage from Hurricane Katrina and the Great Recession.
Children and youth in the areas affected by the oil spill need pathways to a healthier and more productive future, and a sense that they control their own destiny. Children and their families also need access to a robust health system that can address their primary care, preventive, specialty care and mental health needs.
Between April and October 2012, a household survey and a community engage effort were conducted. The methodology used to interview participants was as follows:
Survey Parents: We randomly selected household in fifteen “hard-hit” communities. These communities were selected as having high rates of BP compensation claims and evidence of oil washing up on their shores. From April through August 2012 our interviewers knocked on 6,800 doors across the four states and interviewed 1,437 parents.
Engaging Communities: In October 2012 we traveled to four communities where parents had expressed the greatest concerns about their children’s health: 2 in Louisiana, 1 in Mississippi, and 1 in Alabama. We spoke with 150 community leaders, health providers and administrators, school officials, grassroots advocates, service providers, and parents in small-group meetings.
Measuring the Impact of Hurricane Katrina on Access to a Personal Healthcare Provider: The Use of the National Survey of Children’s Health for an External Comparison Group
Children as Bellwethers of Recovery: Dysfunctional Systems and the Effects of Parents, Households, and Neighborhoods on Serious Emotional Disturbance in Children After Hurricane Katrina
Measuring Individual Disaster Recovery: A Socioecological Framework
Second Wind: The Impact of Hurricane Gustav on Children and Families Who Survived Katrina
Prevalence and Predictors of Mental Health Distress Post-Katrina: Findings From the Gulf Coast Child and Family Health Study
The Legacy of Katrina’s Children
The Recovery Divide
On the Edge
New York Office
David Abramson PhD MPH – Principal Investigator
Lori Peek, PhD – Co-Investigator
Jaishree Beedasy, PhD – Program Manager
Jonathan Sury MPH CPH – Senior Project Coordinator
Gulf Coast Office
Jyaphia Christos-Rodgers, MA, lives in New Orleans where she is a research consultant, program evaluator, adult educator, and community organizer. She completed her master’s degree in Sociology and her doctoral coursework in Urban Studies at the University of New Orleans. For over 25 years, she has served in the fields of workforce development, environmental health, youth development, anti-oppression initiatives, HIV prevention, and disaster recovery. She is assisting with the focus groups and key informant interviews in the GCPI target communities.
Amber Burtt Goff, MBA, is a lifelong Gulf Coast resident. She received her B.A. in International Studies from the University of South Alabama and her Masters from the University of Southern Mississippi. Amber serves as deputy field coordinator for the GCPI project, utilizing her years of business and project management experience. She is assisting with the focus groups and key informant interviews in the GCPI target communities.
Frank Wesley, EdS, MEd, joined The Children’s Health Fund (CHF) in June 2007 as the Regional Director of Operation Assist which was launched in the days following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. He has worked with families and children in the Gulf impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita 2005, Hurricanes Gustav and Ike 2008, The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill 2010 and more recently, Hurricane Isaac 2012. He continues to provide technical assistance in the strategic involvement of CHF in the event of future disasters. Frank is assisting with the focus groups and key informant interviews in the GCPI target communities.
Jonell Rhodes lives in Slidell, Louisiana and has experience in the educational field. With the GCPI project she served as a field interviewer.
Terrance Johnson, BS, resides in New Orleans and earned his bachelor’s from Southern University at New Orleans in Criminal Justice. He served in the United States Army and currently works Northrop Grumman in their Workman’s Compensation Investigations Division. He worked as a field interviewer for the GCPI project.
Michael Radcliff, MSW, resides in New Orleans and earned a Masters and Bachelors in Social Work from Southern University at New Orleans. He is a writer and columnist with the Louisiana Weekly Newspaper and is an author. With the GCPI project he served as a field interviewer.