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Persistent respiratory symptoms in clean-up workers 5 years after the Prestige oil spill
  1. Jan-Paul Zock1,2,3,
  2. Gema Rodríguez-Trigo4,5,
  3. Emma Rodríguez-Rodríguez6,
  4. Aina Espinosa1,2,3,
  5. Francisco Pozo-Rodríguez5,7,
  6. Federico Gómez5,8,
  7. Carme Fuster9,
  8. Gemma Castaño-Vinyals1,2,3,
  9. Josep M Antó1,2,3,10,
  10. Joan A Barberà5,8
  1. 1Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL), Barcelona, Spain
  2. 2Hospital del Mar Research Institute (IMIM), Barcelona, Spain
  3. 3CIBER Epidemiología y Salud Pública (CIBERESP), Barcelona, Spain
  4. 4Department of Respiratory Medicine, Hospital Clínico San Carlos, Madrid, Spain
  5. 5CIBER Enfermedades Respiratorias (CIBERES), Bunyola, Mallorca, Spain
  6. 6Complexo Hospitalario Universitario, A Coruña, Spain
  7. 7Department of Respiratory Medicine and Clinical Epidemiology Unit, University Hospital 12 de Octubre, Madrid, Spain
  8. 8Department of Respiratory Medicine, Hospital Clínic-Institut d'Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS), Barcelona, Spain
  9. 9Unit of Cellular Biology and Medical Genetics, Faculty of Medicine, Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), Barcelona, Spain
  10. 10Department of Experimental and Health Sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), Barcelona, Spain
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jan-Paul Zock, Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL), Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB), Dr Aiguader, 88, E-08003 Barcelona, Spain; jpzock{at}


Objectives Fishermen who had participated in clean-up activities of the Prestige oil spill showed an excess risk of respiratory symptoms 1–2 years later, but the long-term persistence of these health effects is unclear. The aim of this study was to evaluate the persistence of these respiratory symptoms 5 years after clean-up work.

Methods Subgroups of 501 fishermen who had been exposed to clean-up work and 177 non-exposed individuals were re-interviewed by telephone in 2008, including the same symptom questions as in the initial survey. Associations between participation in clean-up work and respiratory symptoms were assessed using log-binomial and multinomial regression analyses adjusting for sex, age and smoking.

Results Information from 466 exposed (93%) and 156 non-exposed (88%) fishermen was obtained. The prevalence of lower respiratory tract symptoms (including wheeze, shortness of breath, cough and phlegm) had slightly decreased in both groups, but remained higher among the exposed (RR 1.4, 95% CI 1.1 to 1.9). The risk of having persistent respiratory symptoms (reported both at baseline and at follow-up) increased with the degree of exposure: RR ratio 1.7 (95% CI 0.9 to 3.1) and 3.3 (95% CI 1.8 to 6.2) for moderately and highly exposed, respectively, when compared with those without any symptoms. Findings for nasal symptoms and for respiratory medication usage were similar.

Conclusions Participation in clean-up activities of oil spills may result in respiratory symptoms that persist up to 5 years after exposure. Guidelines for preventive measures and a continued surveillance of clean-up workers of oil spills are necessary.

  • Oil spill
  • emergency responders
  • environmental disaster
  • respiratory
  • longitudinal
  • allergy
  • hygiene/occupational hygiene
  • epidemiology
  • lung function
  • exposure monitoring
  • exposure assessment
  • smoking
  • air pollution
  • occupational asthma
  • asthma

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  • Funding This study was financially supported by the Instituto de Salud Carlos III/FEDER (grants FIS PI03/1685 and PI07/0086), the Spanish Respiratory Society (SEPAR), the Galician Health Service (SERGAS), the CIBER Enfermedades Respiratorias (CIBERES) and the CIBER Epidemiología y Salud Pública (CIBERESP).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the Ethics Committee on Clinical Research of Galicia.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.