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Citizen science more than a century later: Ordinary people go online to track Gulf oil spill
Date:12/10/2012

WASHINGTONIn the summer of 1854 a doctor named John Snow tracked London's deadly outbreak of cholera to contaminated water coming from a public wellthe now famous Broad Street pump. But Snow's observations had to wend their way through the annals of science and took years to make an impact on the public health. Now, more than a century later, ordinary people can go online and report observations about public health problems and disasters in real time.

In a just-published study a researcher at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS) reports on this new form of "citizen science," concluding that it can help modern-day public health officials assess health and environmental threats, such as those posed by the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. The researcher studied reports to an online Oil Spill Map and discovered that citizen science can red-flag potential hazards quickly and offers very specific local information that often fails to make it into official scientific reports.

"Thousands of people logged onto the Spill Map in the days and months following the Gulf oil spill and reported smoke, tainted seafood, foul odors linked to the oil dispersant and other problems as they were occurring on the front lines," said the author of the study Sabrina McCormick, PhD, associate professor of environmental health at SPHHS. "This reporting by ordinary people promises to be a powerful new way of conducting research and helping officials respond appropriately to disasters." McCormick published the study online December 10, 2012 in the scientific journal Ecology and Society.

The study looks back at the disaster that unfolded in the spring of 2010 when an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and spilled nearly five million barrels of oil into the water before it was capped. The company in charge of the clean-up operation then used more than 2.1 million gallons of a chemical dispersant in order to clean up
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Contact: Kathy Fackelmann
kfackelmann@gwu.edu
202-994-8354
George Washington University
Source:Eurekalert

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