Thursday, April 20, 2017

Repost from 2012: Tulane's new studies punctuate ongoing research on women's health after spill

The following article first appeared on, June 20, 2012. Since its publication, Dr. Lichtveld has published papers, which can be read here.The story has been lightly edited.
Today, April 20, is the seventh anniversary of the tragic and massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven men, rig workers, would lose their lives after an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig owned by Transocean.
Yet, while the oil spill -- that wasn't shuttered for 87 days -- was horrific enough, the U.S. in concert with BP sprayed the Gulf with nearly 2 million gallons of dispersants, dispersants banned in the very country in which they are manufactured.
This reporter has followed the story from the beginning, including having spoken to numerous individuals who were in the zones most affected.
In the original posting of this story, I ran a picture by Mario Tama of Getty Images, dated April 18, 2011. The headline was "Lorrie Williams of Ocean Springs, MS developed severe health problems from the spill including lung polyps and liver damage. She believes this and her 42-lb weight loss as of Apr 2011 was caused by the dispersants."
While the media might focus on the recovery and how many brown pelicans were cleaned up, the deeper story is that oil is still at the bottom of the gulf and weighing the effects of oil-plus-dispersants is only beginning to show light. Scientists have proven, though, that together the mix is far more toxic than having just used oil alone.
In the course of my reporting over the years, I heard then Plaquemines President Billy Nungesser explain how the EPA told them one day there would be no more spraying, only to reverse course and come back again. I heard people I respect tell me again and again that I'd have to wait until papers were published, or that choosing Corexit was the best choice at the time. It kept the oil from coming up on shore. Yes, sort of like hitting you over the head so you faint keeps you from tripping and falling into the pool.
Following is my story from 2012, in which I interview a prominent scientist studying the effects of the BP oil spill on women's health:
Dr. Maureen Lichtveld, Tulane's chair of environmental policy, met with this reporter a couple of weeks ago in her Canal Street office to discuss recent grants to her department. Announced June 1, an overarching study of potential health impacts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on coastal communities is being conducted thanks to $18.7 million from the BP spill settlement, as well as $3.7 million from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation's Fund for the Future of the Gulf, which will facilitate the evaluation of environmental health risks to seafood.
Since last July, though, Lichtveld has already been overseeing a vital three-year project paid for by a $6.5 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. This one explores the potential impacts of the spill on pregnant women and females of reproductive age. Their focus is women living in Jefferson, Lafourche, Orleans and Plaquemines parishes.
Lichtveld said:
"Pregnant women are always a population of concern when there are environmental exposures, as the developing fetus may be vulnerable to even small doses of contaminants...To our knowledge, this is also the first study to examine maternal stress and anxiety related to a major oil spill and the associated effects on birth outcomes, fetal health and family-planning behavior.”
Last year's grant created the Transdisciplinary Research Consortium for Gulf Resilience on Women’s Health (or GROWH) at Tulane. It is quantifying potential exposure levels among women to environmental contaminants via seafood consumption and air emissions; studying how disasters affect reproduction choices; and exploring how the relationship between the environment and socioeconomics affect women’s health and pregnancies.
"GROWH will collaborate with vulnerable populations along the Gulf Coast to conduct transdisciplinary, community-based participatory research," the National Institutes for Health said last year.
The consortium also partners with community groups to conduct its research, partnering with communities to design the studies, Lichtveld said. These partners include Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corp., Bayou Interfaith Sharing Community Organizing and Women Infant and Children (WIC) clinics in the affected parishes. Explaining how the school is able to use funds from the first, $18.7 million grant, Lichtveld said, "the school is in a wonderfully neutral position." BP has no involvement in how Tulane manages the money since it was part of their $7.8 billion settlement on the Gulf spill, she said.
Lichtveld, who had the surreal experience of starting at Tulane shortly before Katrina hit, says she is "excited" by her work. This includes a fascinating element of the community study, which will allow her to reach high schools and train students to learn about environmental health. Then these newly environmental medicine-savvy kids will allow the community to "recruit very competively."
Someday, hopefully, these high schoolers will be the new medical professionals in the gulf, able to assess health problems resulting from spills.
### - An earlier version of this report listed the awards in the wrong order. This version is correct.
PHOTO: May 2, 2010 - U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen, then National Incident Commander, and then EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, briefed President Barack Obama about the situation along the Gulf Coast following the BP oil spill at the Coast Guard Venice Center in Venice, La.. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza; Author: USEPA Environmental-Protection-Agency

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