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Environ Res. 2018 Apr;162:196-202. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2017.11.044. Epub 2018 Jan 11.

The deepwater horizon oil spill coast guard cohort study: A cross-sectional study of acute respiratory health symptoms.

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Department of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics, Uniformed Services University, Bethesda, MD, United States.
Department of Epidemiology, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, United States.
United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD, United States.
United States Army Corps of Engineers, Safety and Occupational Health Office, Little Rock, AR, United States.
United States Coast Guard, Directorate of Health, Safety, and Work Life, Washington, DC, United States.



Over 8500 United States Coast Guard (USCG) personnel were deployed in response to the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill; however, human respiratory effects as a result of spill-related exposures are relatively unknown.


USCG personnel who responded to the DWH oil spill were queried via survey on exposures to crude oil and oil dispersant, and acute respiratory symptoms experienced during deployment. Adjusted log binomial regressions were used to calculate prevalence ratios (PRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CI), investigating the associations between oil spill exposures and respiratory symptoms.


4855 USCG personnel completed the survey. More than half (54.6%) and almost one-fourth (22.0%) of responders were exposed to crude oil and oil dispersants, respectively. Coughing was the most prevalent symptom (19.4%), followed by shortness of breath (5.5%), and wheezing (3.6%). Adjusted analyses showed an exposure-response relationship between increasing deployment duration and likelihood of coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing in the pre-capping period. A similar pattern was observed in the post-capping period for coughing and wheezing. Adjusted analyses revealed increased PRs for coughing (PR=1.92), shortness of breath (PR=2.60), and wheezing (PR=2.68) for any oil exposure. Increasing frequency of inhalation of oil was associated with increased likelihood of all three respiratory symptoms. A similar pattern was observed for contact with oil dispersants for coughing and shortness of breath. The combination of both oil and oil dispersants presented associations that were much greater in magnitude than oil alone for coughing (PR=2.72), shortness of breath (PR=4.65), and wheezing (PR=5.06).


Results from the present study suggested strong relationships between oil and oil dispersant exposures and acute respiratory symptoms among disaster responders. Future prospective studies will be needed to confirm these findings.


Crude oil; Deepwater Horizon; Oil dispersants; Oil spill; Respiratory symptoms

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