Washington this past week hosted many events dealing with the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Among them were two Congressional hearings addressing the potential health effects on humans of the spill and of the agents used in subsequent clean-up efforts. The Senate Health Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee convened Tuesday on the subject, and the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee examined the issue on Wednesday.

In addition, the Institute of Medicine will hold a workshop next week in New Orleans on the health risks posed by the spill. And at a Tuesday Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing on the future of the National Institutes of Health, NIH Director Francis Collins said NIH would devote $10 million of existing funds to support research on the potential human health effects of the oil spill. 

Through the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH will recruit a cohort of 15,000 to 20,000 clean-up workers and residents who have been exposed to the spill. Researchers will ascertain their health history and status and the nature of their exposure; they will use that information to establish a baseline and will monitor cohort members for respiratory, immunological, and neurobehavioral effects, Collins said.

Tags: Public Health