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Some clues for studying long-term health effects of oil spills
  1. Jan Paul Zock1,2,3
  1. 1 ISGlobal, Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL), Barcelona, Spain
  2. 2 University Pompeu Fabra (UPF), Barcelona, Spain
  3. 3 CIBER Epidemiología y Salud Pública (CIBERESP), Madrid, Spain
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jan Paul Zock, ISGlobal, Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL), Barcelona 08003, Spain; janpaul.zock{at}isglobal.org

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Oil spills are environmental incidents that contaminate water surfaces and coastal areas. On average, one major spill occurs each year.1 They mobilise large numbers of emergency responders to clean up the oil, typically involving a large manual effort. Oil spills may lead to environmental damage, impacts on ecosystems and marine species, economic losses in the fisheries and tourism industries, and adverse effects on human health. In the last three decades, potential health effects of major oil tanker spills have been evaluated through epidemiological studies on residents, clean-up workers or both.1–3 These studies showed health effects including but not limited to non-specific respiratory, skin and nervous system symptoms, functional respiratory changes, and alterations in levels of inflammatory and genotoxic biomarkers.

The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 became one of the largest oil spills worldwide. The circumstances were somewhat different from most other marine oil spills since crude oil was released instead of bunker oil. In addition, this release was under water from a wellhead after the explosion and sinking of the drilling platform, instead of leakage from damaged tankers at water surface level. Nevertheless, the consequences had many similarities, both from the environmental and from the human health perspectives.2 The …

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