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The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Coast Guard Cohort study
  1. Jennifer Rusiecki1,
  2. Melannie Alexander1,
  3. Erica G Schwartz2,
  4. Li Wang1,
  5. Laura Weems3,
  6. John Barrett1,
  7. Kate Christenbury4,
  8. David Johndrow4,5,
  9. Renée H Funk6,
  10. Lawrence S Engel7
  1. 1 Department of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics, F Edward Hebert School of Medicine, Uniformed Services University, Bethesda, USA
  2. 2 Coast Guard, Directorate of Health, Safety and Work Life, Washington, USA
  3. 3 United States Army Corps of Engineers, Safety and Occupational Health Office, Little Rock, USA
  4. 4 Social & Scientific Systems, Durham, USA
  5. 5 RTI International, Research Triangle Park, Durham, USA
  6. 6 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Atlanta, USA
  7. 7 Department of Epidemiology, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jennifer Rusiecki, Department of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics, F Edward Hebert School of Medicine, Uniformed Services University, Jones Bridge Rd, Bethesda, Maryland 20814, USA; jennifer.rusiecki{at}


Objectives Long-term studies of oil spill responders are urgently needed as oil spills continue to occur. To this end, we established the prospective Deepwater Horizon (DWH) Oil Spill Coast Guard Cohort study.

Methods DWH oil spill responders (n=8696) and non-responders (n=44 823) who were members of the US Coast Guard (20 April–17 December 2010) were included. This cohort uses both prospective, objective health data from military medical encounters and cross-sectional survey data. Here, we describe the cohort, present adjusted prevalence ratios (PRs) estimating cross-sectional associations between crude oil exposure (none, low/medium, high) and acute physical symptoms, and present adjusted relative risks (RRs) based on longitudinal medical encounter data (2010–2012) for responders/non-responders and responders exposed/not exposed to crude oil.

Results Responders and non-responders in this large cohort (n=53 519) have similar characteristics. Crude oil exposure was reported by >50% of responders. We found statistically significant associations for crude oil exposure with coughing (PRhigh=1.78), shortness of breath (PRhigh=2.30), wheezing (PRhigh=2.32), headaches (PRhigh=1.46), light-headedness/dizziness (PRhigh=1.96), skin rash/itching (PRhigh=1.87), diarrhoea (PRhigh=1.76), stomach pain (PRhigh=1.67), nausea/vomiting (PRhigh=1.48) and painful/burning urination (PRhigh=2.89) during deployment. Longitudinal analyses revealed that responders had elevated RRs for dermal conditions (RR=1.09), as did oil-exposed responders for chronic respiratory conditions (RR=1.32), asthma (RR=1.83) and dermal conditions (RR=1.21).

Conclusions We found positive associations between crude oil exposure and various acute physical symptoms among responders, as well as longer term health effects. This cohort is well positioned to evaluate both short-term and long-term effects of oil spill exposures using both self-reported and clinical health data.

  • oil spill
  • deepwater horizon
  • crude oil

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  • Contributors JR (PI) conceived, designed and executed the study and wrote the manuscript. LSE (co-PI) designed and executed the study, worked closely with the PI in all aspects. EGS (co-PI) assisted with making data available from the US Coast Guard and helped execute the study. MA obtained, managed and analysed the data. LaW provided expertise/advice on Coast Guard personnel exposures. JB provided expertise/advice on medical encounter data. LiW assisted with interpretation of the results and editing. KC and DJ provided key data management and data analysis. RHF assisted with survey design. All coauthors provided assistance in interpreting results and editing the manuscript.

  • Funding This study was supported by a National Institutes of Health grant (RO1ES020874).

  • Disclaimer The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the Department of Defense, the United States Coast Guard, The Department of Homeland Security, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Uniformed Services University.

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

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