Behavioral Health of Gulf Coast Residents 6 Years After the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

The Role of Trauma History

Published in: Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness (2018).  doi:10.1017/dmp.2018.84

Posted on on October 24, 2018

by Lynsay Ayer, Charles C. Engel, Andrew M. Parker, Rachana Seelam, Rajeev Ramchand

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The purpose of this study was to examine the associations between oil spill exposure, trauma history, and behavioral health 6 years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (DHOS). We hypothesized that prior trauma would exacerbate the relationship between oil spill exposure and behavioral health problems.


The sample included 2,520 randomly selected adults in coastal areas along the Gulf of Mexico. Participants reported their level of oil spill exposure, trauma history, depression, anxiety/worry, illness anxiety, and alcohol use.


Individuals with more traumatic experiences had a significantly higher risk for all measured behavioral health problems after controlling for demographic factors and DHOS exposure. Those with higher levels of DHOS exposure were not at greater risk for behavioral health problems after controlling for prior trauma, with the exception of illness anxiety. There was no evidence that trauma history moderated the association between DHOS exposure and behavioral health.


Findings suggest that trauma exposure may be a better indicator of long-term behavioral health risk than DHOS exposure among disaster-prone Gulf Coast residents. DHOS exposure may be a risk factor for illness anxiety but not more general behavioral health concerns. Trauma history did not appear to exacerbate risk for behavioral health problems among Gulf residents exposed to the DHOS.

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