Human Health and Socioeconomic Effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico
Published in: Oceanography, Volume 34, No. 1, pages 174–191 (March 2021). doi: 10.5670/oceanog.2021.125
Posted on RAND.org on February 01, 2023
The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill is the only declared Spill of National Significance in US history, and it significantly impacted the health of people and communities in the Gulf of Mexico region. These impacts amplified adverse effects of prior disasters and may compound those of future traumas. Studies, both to date and ongoing, show some negative mental and physical health outcomes associated with DWH in some spill workers, as well as some coastal residents in all Gulf States. The spill was also associated with negative effects in the living resources, tourism, and recreation sectors, at least in the short term. Compared with others, people dependent on these sectors reported more health and financial concerns. Consumer concerns about the safety and marketability of seafood persisted well after data demonstrated very low risk. Parents were concerned about possible exposures of children as they played on beaches, but this risk was found to be minor. Spill-related stress was an overarching factor associated with adverse health outcomes, and some residents reported greater stress from navigating the legal and claims processes following the spill than from the spill itself. Research revealed a serious lack of baseline health, environmental, and socioeconomic data against which to compare spill effects. This finding highlighted the need for ongoing observing systems to monitor health and socioeconomic parameters and establish continuous baselines of such information.