Disasters generally leave unmistakable footprints: widespread destruction, crumbling infrastructure, and grieving or evacuated populations. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill reveals a murkier legacy. Although the oil spill was physically evident to those who traveled or worked the Gulf Coast waters, its damage was potentially far broader and subtler than that of a catastrophic hurricane. The oil spill altered the Gulf’s ecosystem, including its social systems, cultures, and livelihoods, with the potential for long-lasting regional effects. Prior research suggests that children are particularly vulnerable to such massive social disturbances.

The Child Impact Study is part of a Gulf Coast Research Consortium being led by Louisiana State University’s (LSU) Health Sciences Center, as part of a $3.5 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to study the long-term health effects of the oil spill on women and children.

The overall goals of the Child Impact Study are to: (1) understand the short- and longer-term impacts of the oil spill on children’s development and well-being; and (2) examine how parental and social forces, and alternative treatment models, can mediate or modify the spill’s effects on children. The study will employ longitudinal data from the 4,000 women and 1,000 early adolescents enrolled in the larger Women and Their Children’s Health (WATCH) survey cohort to achieve these goals. This data will be supplemented by a qualitative study of 20 families whose children are “outliers,” surprisingly functional (or dysfunctional) given their circumstances or exposure to the oil spill. Disasters are rare events, but each affords unique opportunities to deepen our understanding of the forces that threaten a child’s welfare, and those that protect it.


  1. Establish the potential harm experienced by children as a result of the oil spill.
  2. Examine the distribution and impact of stress and social context in mediating this potential harm.
  3. Examine the roles of resilience and interventions on modifying the effects of oil spill exposure on children’s behavioral and psychological dysfunction.
  4. Explore how community resilience is experienced by children and their families.


  1. This research will deepen the scientific understanding of how childhood stress mediates behavioral and psychological dysfunction within the context of extreme economic disruption and collective uncertainty.
  2. Our research will develop an ecological bio-behavioral explanatory framework that more adequately describes the role of multi-level contextual and social factors on children’s well-being.
  3. By determining the pathways of "harm" to children, this study can assist the affected communities in understanding the potential oil spill-related harm, and identify those factors which modify or buffer its effects.
  4. We will engage the affected communities in framing and interpreting the study’s results.


Data collection will be conducted during each of the five years of the project. The baseline survey will be conducted over a two-year period with half the cohort interviewed during Year 1, and the second half of the cohort in Year 2. Similarly, the follow-up survey data will be collected over Years 3 and 4. Half of the cohort will be interviewed for a second follow-up survey during Year 5. Outlier family interviews will be conducted during Years 1 through 4, with six scheduled for each year.

Project Funder: National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences

Project Principal Investigator: Edward Trapido, School of Public Health, Louisiana State University

Child Impact Study Principal Investigator: David Abramson, National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Columbia University

Child Impact Study Research Team: Irwin Redlener, Children’s Health Fund and National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Columbia University; Virginia Rauh and Robin Whyatt, Center for Children’s Environmental Health, Columbia University; Lori Peek, Sociology and CDRA, Colorado State University

Project Timeline: July 2011-July 2016