Overall, the researchers said, clean-up workers were 1.7 times more likely than others to experience lower respiratory tract symptoms. Men who participated in clean-up were twice as likely as those who didnt to have experienced chronic cough or phlegm or asthma in the past year; female clean-up workers were 1.7 times more likely than others to chronic phlegm, and 1.6 times as likely to experience nasal symptoms. Excluding workers who reported anxiety or who believed that their health was adversely affected by the spill, the researchers found that the differences in respiratory symptoms decreased slightly but remained significant.
Importantly, they found that the increased prevalence of upper- and lower-respiratory tract symptoms persisted for more than a year following the last clean-up activity, but while still significant when more than 20 months had elapsed, rates did show eventual decline, suggesting that the damage may be in part reversible.
There was no association between performing clean-up work and having diagnosed respiratory conditions, such as asthma, leading the investigators to speculate that warnings from health authorities may have discouraged people with known respiratory conditions from participating in the clean up. This self-selection among clean-up participants, the so-called healthy worker effect, may have led to an underestimation of the risk estimates, wrote Dr. Pozo-Rodriguez.
To our knowledge, no previous study has explored long-term respiratory effects in clean-up workers of other oil spills. Our findings suggest that participation in clean-up work of oil spills may result in prolonged adverse respiratory health effects 1-2 years after exposure, he continued. Increasing awareness of the potential chronic respiratory effects among clean up workers of future oil spills, in combination w
|Contact: Suzy Martin|
American Thoracic Society