Officials: Oil spill's impact on health far from measured - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Officials: Oil spill's impact on health far from measured

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SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) -

While it's easy to detect the physical presence of oil on the beaches and in the waters, the impact of that devastating disaster on health is much harder to measure.  Officials say the process of documenting the long term health effects of the spill is neither easy, nor fast.

"We're learning a few things about people's current health concerns and their mental health concerns. But, it's too early to link those to what they were doing during the oil spill," said Dr. Dale Sandler of the National Institute for Health.

The NIH has been undergoing a massive study of the oil's impact on the mental and physical health of the Gulf region. The goal is to look at 40,000 people who were involved in the oil spill and any health changes or concerns they may have over the course of several years.

"We try to find out everything we can about what they were doing during the oil spill. Where they were, what protective equipment they were using, what jobs they had. And we ask about their health at that time, as well as their health today," said Sandler.

So far, the study has around 19,000 participants.  However, Sandler said they are far from releasing the final findings of the study. 

Each participant is extensively interviewed on their experiences during the spill.  Many are given a physical and health statistics like blood pressure and lung function are taken. 

For the study to be as accurate as possible, Sandler says more people are needed.

"We want people to enroll whether they have health concerns now or not. What we're trying to do is to generate information that will be useful in decision making by community leaders down the road," said Sandler. "In order to get scientifically sound information, we need to cover a wide range of people and ask a wide range of questions."

The NIH will continue to check in with participants over the course of five to 10 years as the study progresses. 

While the final results aren't in, general health statistics about the study are available on the NIH website: http://www.nih.gov. Each study is private and confidential, so no personal information about individuals is ever released. If you would like to enroll in the study, you can call a toll free number: (855)-NIH-GULF. 

Sandler said they hope to have more results to release within a year. 

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