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NIOSH’s Role in the Deepwater Horizon Response

Posted on by Jim Spahr, MPH

three workers in striking yellow vests holding plastic bags and looking at sandFollowing the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon and the resulting and ongoing oil spill, occupational health specialists from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) arrived on site in the Gulf on May 2, 2010, as part of the federal interagency effort to anticipate and address occupational and environmental health and safety needs in the Gulf Coast. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) requested NIOSH’s on-site technical assistance including input on worker health hazard risk assessment tools and personal protective equipment (PPE) selection tools used to train workers. NIOSH quickly responded and posted the NIOSH Deepwater Horizon Response Resources topic page that is updated as additional information becomes available.

Since early May, the NIOSH role has expanded to meet evolving needs that our stakeholders and we have identified. The unprecedented magnitude of the disaster involves challenging complexities for NIOSH and its federal, state, and local partners. These include complex exposures to heat, physical stress, fatigue, and toxic chemical and physical agents in several different work tasks on the water and on the shore. Several of NIOSH’s key activities to protect worker safety and health in the Gulf are highlighted below.

  • NIOSH is developing a voluntary roster containing information about thousands of response workers who are participating in the recovery efforts to create a record of those who have participated in cleanup activities and a mechanism to contact them about possible work-related symptoms of illness or injury, as needed. The information collected in this roster would be vital for possible future studies to determine whether health conditions that may develop are associated with occupational exposures during the cleanup. In an attempt to reach all cleanup workers, a rostering program is being administered in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese. NIOSH has also extended the rostering effort to include federal workers and state and county workers who have received the required safety training and who are responding in the event. Through our rostering efforts to date, we have already captured information from more than 20,357 workers responding to this event. More information including copies of the rostering form are available on the NIOSH website.
  • NIOSH is conducting surveillance to monitor for health symptoms of acute injury, illness, or job stress by workers involved in this large-scale (across four states) response to the oil spill.
  • NIOSH is conducting a Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) of reported illnesses among workers involved in offshore cleanup operations, as requested by BP on May 28, 2010. Dozens of NIOSH staff members have been deployed to the Gulf Coast to work on this evaluation, including industrial hygienists and medical officers with expertise in assessing safety and health risks in the workplace. Once the HHE is completed, NIOSH will compile the findings and recommendations in a report that will be provided to employer and employee representatives, and it will be released publicly. On June 18, BP requested a second, broader HHE for additional workers, including those involved in shoreline and marsh cleanup, decontamination of vessels and equipment, and waste oil processing. Once this HHE is completed, NIOSH also will release findings and recommendations in a similar reporting manner. For more information including the interim report see NIOSH Ongoing Health Hazard Evaluation: Deepwater Horizon Response.
  • NIOSH is initiating laboratory toxicity studies of both crude oil and chemical dispersant mixtures to address reports of workers with dermal, respiratory symptoms or headaches. This research will seek to determine the acute dermal, pulmonary, central nervous system, and cardiovascular responses to inhalation or dermal absorption of dispersants, oil constituents, and the combination of the two, and the results will help inform the development of prevention strategies.
  • NIOSH Director, John Howard, M.D., presented at the Institute of Medicine Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Workshop: Response of the Federal Government to Health Issues June 22, 2010, in New Orleans and at a House Education and Labor Committee hearing June 23, 2010, on activities by NIOSH and CDC to address health and safety concerns facing workers and others in the Deepwater Horizon Response.
  • NIOSH and OSHA have posted Interim Guidance for Protecting Deepwater Horizon Response Workers and Volunteers.The spill event and the federal response are continually changing. That is why the new guidance material is an “interim” guideline. The guideline can be continually revised and updated with new information about either work conditions or health exposures as they are learned. The federal government will continue to change its efforts to prevent and reduce injury and illness.

Much public and media attention is focused on the environmental and economic aspects of this disaster. NIOSH continues to do its part to help ensure that the workers and volunteers who are containing and cleaning up the oil are protected from injury and illness.

CAPT Spahr is the Associate Director of the NIOSH Office for Emergency Preparedness & Response.

Posted on by Jim Spahr, MPH

22 comments on “NIOSH’s Role in the Deepwater Horizon Response”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    The cleanup effort is not paying the fishermen enough, they used to be able to make $5,000 in a day or two but now they are getting $5,000 a month from B.P. It is time to fine B.P. $500 Billion dollars and start handing out checks to affected residents which compensate them appropriately.

    There are two ways to fight a War. One way is to have the Army or Police do your Battle. The Second way is to collectively offer your services to the Clean Up of the Oil Spill for free. Could you imagine what 20,000 able people are worth to the Clean Up efforts. It is far more frustrating to loose a battle and not even try. These people don’t want charity—they have been hard working people all of their lives. They want to be your partners and clean up this disaster.

    Offer the Children the opportunity of making a difference. When a Young person sees a furture we bring up healthy adjusted citizens in our communities. Lets take 10,000 kids and make a difference.

    Volunteers are often very helpful and while we understand the public’s desire to help with the response to the oil spill, as described in the blog, there are many hazards involved with the cleanup efforts. Proper training and personal protective equipment are required. We always have to err on the side of caution particularly if children are involved. Caution at this point would suggest children not be exposed to the physical, chemical, or psychological hazards involved in the cleanup efforts.

    I want to thank all of NIOSH for raising the bar on safety and health for workers in time of emergencey and environmental catastrophe. The Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill is one of the worst environmental disaters ever and NIOSH is making the recovery efforts the most safe ever recorded. If you need an award winning RN and Public Health Nurse and award winning Certified Occupational Health Nurse on your team just ask.

    With regard to the potential for inhalational exposure to toxic chemical and physical agents of crude oil,the medical litterature:”International Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health: Meo et al 2009,22(1)35-41″,cited some adverse health effects in response workers during the clean up of 28000 tones of oil(about 200.000 barrels(in the Karahi port(Pakistan):”Respiratory Effects of oil spill and clean up..Effects of duration of exposure on Lung Function in subjects exposed to crude oil spill into sea water”…

    There was a significant reduction in FVC compared to control subjects,while FEV1 and FEF 25-75 reductions were not significant..Of note the workers involved in the clean-up were not wearing appropriate protective gear…Fishermen reprted headaches,throat irritation,and respiratory symptoms more often..

    Need to raise awwareness of occupational health issues related to oil industry,to increase knowledge about chemicals or non chemicals exposure..

    Need to reduce the potential for adverse health effects by the responsile use of administrative,engineering controls and personal protective equipment..

    It seems to me that this is going to be a long endeavor. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for the government to create an office and employ people specifically for this endeavor? Rather than taxing NIOSH employees with an exhausting endeavor with an unknown end in sight; your researchers should get back to the research projects they are working on. This would be a win win situation; more jobs would be created for those unemployed and your research you are currently doing would not have to be put on hold. In my opinion, it is the upper branches of government that should be taking care of this not NIOSH.

    Thanks for your comment. You are certainly right, the Deepwater Horizon Response will be a long duration one. Right now, it’s all hands on deck and NIOSH is doing a lot of work to roster workers, to conduct exposure assessment in association with requested Health Hazard Evaluations (HHEs), to analyze injury and illness data and to provide guidance for protecting response workers. Your idea for the upper branches of government to take care of the this and not NIOSH is also happening beyond the issue of worker safety and health, in that EPA, NOAA, FDA, U.S. Coast Guard, NIH/NIEHS are all very much involved in various aspects of the response.

    I am interested in clinical research or a Residency program to study the Dermatological impact on Oil Spill Response workers and the public.

    Please advise on opportunities

    Thanks

    I would recommend contacting the Chief Medical Officer at the West Jefferson Parish Hospital in LA to initiate points of contact/dialog. This hospital receives the bulk of LA workers and has clinics in the field. You may also want to contact the medical schools in the gulf coast states.

    Could you please explain why BP is paying the salary and travel expenses for those NIOSH employees involved in the oil spill activities? What implication does this present to NIOSH as you prepare to publish and disseminate your findings?

    The salaries of the NIOSH employees working on the Deepwater Horizon response activities are paid to them by the U.S. Treasury, as with any other permanent or temporary employees of the Federal Government. Their travel is also performed under the authority of U.S. Government travel orders, controlled by the Federal Travel Regulations (FTR)as described at http://gsa.gov/portal/content/104790; and compensation and reimbursement of expenses is through deposit from the U.S. Treasury in accordance with these regulations.

    Our employees do not receive compensation from BP.

    NIOSH, as an agency has received some reimbursement for our expenses through an agreement with the Unified Command. Also, in accordance with instructions from the Office of Management and Budget, NIOSH is keeping track of the costs incurred in the response activities, and the U.S. Government may be reimbursed by BP for those expenses incurred as a matter of good stewardship of the taxpayers’ money. None of these funding arrangements will have impact on any of the reports that we prepare and publish.

    Frank Hearl is the NIOSH Chief of Staff.

    Hi,
    You can see a growing list of web pages with feeds on the oil spill clean Up on [http://OilSpillUpdate.org]. I’ll add another feed on the health impact soon.

    I don’t think the clean up will finish anytime soon and I feel the long term environmental effects may be beyond us now.

    While it is admirable that BP has pretty much taken full responsibility for the cost of all the clean up it was not very admirable for the many pensioners in the U.K. that rely on the dividend payments they provide to them in their retirement that the U.S. government strong armed BP into coughing up 20 billion. It is going to cost at least a billion just for the medical follow up and treatment for all of the workers who end up with long term sicknesses.

    There’s a lot that will be learned from this disaster – we can only hope in the meantime this the ongoing cleanup efforts don’t have a terrible flow on effect with those who’ve been giving enough to partake in the cleanup work. It’s good to see that the necessary occupational health and safetly steps are being taken to ensure this disaster doesn’t go on into the future with new generations suffering from it’s toxic effects.
    Great post guys.

    Humans build vast structures, fly in the sky, travel to the moon, and build Robots that can traverse mars, but we can’t stop the oil! Had the power that be not planned for this in their emergency drills? Ad if this scenario was so difficult to deal with why was it allowed to happen?

    Here in the UK people ask me about my opposition to nuclear power in the US saying, “Why shouldn’t we have nuclear, the French and British do”.

    My answer to them was “That is fine [French have nuclear power], they (& most of Europe) care about their people and can be trusted. Americans in power will take bribes to turn a blind eye as big business cuts corners as they did here and as they would with nuclear power. True a British company did this,but who didn’t require a relief well? Not surprise by this event at all!

    How long is NIOSH committed to sending employees to survey the oil spill workers medical concerns related to their participation in the clean up effort? Will this be done by September when the problem is to be permanently fixed? Or will this go on the duration of the clean up effort?

    It still seems to cumbersome to me. You stated in one of the above responses that the Government is funding this; that too is a concern as we know our Government can’t haphazardly spend money that it doesn’t have. Is BP funding NIOSH in anyway, and if so how?

    NIOSH will continue to conduct field based rostering and targeted HHE investigations through most of August. At the end of August NIOSH will re-assess the need for future HHE activities and make plans in accordance with requests received from either BP or the Unified Area Command. Rostering activities will continue at training sites as long as workers are being trained to deploy in each of the EPA response regions. NIOSH will also maintain a web-based rostering effort for the duration of the response. The funding issue is addressed below in the response to comment 15.

    The below is deceitful and misinformation I know from inside sources that BP is reimbursing travel cost to NIOSH employees. I am just appalled that you wont allow the truth to come out.

    Frank Hearl says:
    The salaries of the NIOSH employees working on the Deepwater Horizon response activities are paid to them by the U.S. Treasury, as with any other permanent or temporary employees of the Federal Government. Their travel is also performed under the authority of U.S. Government travel orders, controlled by the Federal Travel Regulations (FTR)as described at http://gsa.gov/portal/content/104790; and compensation and reimbursement of expenses is through deposit from the U.S. Treasury in accordance with these regulations.

    Our employees do not receive compensation from BP.

    NIOSH, as an agency has received some reimbursement for our expenses through an agreement with the Unified Command. Also, in accordance with instructions from the Office of Management and Budget, NIOSH is keeping track of the costs incurred in the response activities, and the U.S. Government may be reimbursed by BP for those expenses incurred as a matter of good stewardship of the taxpayers’ money. None of these funding arrangements will have impact on any of the reports that we prepare and publish.

    (response to comment 8 )

    Some people’s understanding is incomplete about how BP is paying for damage claims versus how the federal government is being reimbursed for its activities. BP is responsible for paying damage claims since they are the responsible party in this event. They are also responsible for paying for services, materials and supplies, and contractor costs associated with direct cleanup activities. However, the federal government is not receiving funds directly from BP to pay for its associated costs. Instead, the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund is being used to cover these costs. This fund is administered by the US Coast Guard and the EPA. Cost reimbursement for NIOSH is provided by the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

    Additional information about the funding source of the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund is available at: http://www.uscg.mil/npfc/About_NPFC/osltf.asp , but the major source of these funds is based on a 5-cent-per-barrel tax, collected from the oil industry on petroleum produced in or imported to the United States. BP contributes to this fund along with all other oil industry producers.

    Thanks NOISH for everything you’ve done so far. There’s a lot that will be learned from this disaster and a lot that will come out of it.

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