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Occup Environ Med. 2012 Jul;69(7):508-13. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2011-100614. Epub 2012 Apr 26.

Persistent respiratory symptoms in clean-up workers 5 years after the Prestige oil spill.

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Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology, Barcelona, Spain.



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.


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.


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.


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.

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