Fine Particulate Matter and Lung Function among Burning-Exposed Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Workers (Chen et al., 2023)

Link to the Study



During the 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DWH) disaster, controlled burning was conducted to remove oil from the water. Workers near combustion sites were potentially exposed to increased fine particulate matter [with aerodynamic diameter 2.5μm (PM2.5)] levels. Exposure to PM2.5 has been linked to decreased lung function, but to our knowledge, no study has examined exposure encountered in an oil spill cleanup.


We investigated the association between estimated PM2.5 only from burning/flaring of oil/gas and lung function measured 1–3 y after the DWH disaster.


We included workers who participated in response and cleanup activities on the water during the DWH disaster and had lung function measured at a subsequent home visit (𝑛=2,316). PM2.5 concentrations were estimated using a Gaussian plume dispersion model and linked to work histories via a job-exposure matrix. We evaluated forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1; milliliters), forced vital capacity (FVC; milliliters), and their ratio (FEV1/FVC; %) in relation to average and cumulative daily maximum exposures using multivariable linear regressions.


We observed significant exposure–response trends associating higher cumulative daily maximum PM2.5 exposure with lower FEV1 (𝑝-trend=0.04) and FEV1/FVC (𝑝-trend=0.01). In comparison with the referent group (workers not involved in or near the burning), those with higher cumulative exposures had lower FEV1 [166.8mL, 95% confidence interval (CI): 337.3, 3.7] and FEV1/FVC (1.7, 95% CI: 3.6, 0.2). We also saw nonsignificant reductions in FVC (high vs. referent: 120.9, 95% CI: 319.4, 77.6; 𝑝-trend=0.36). Similar associations were seen for average daily maximum PM2.5 exposure. Inverse associations were also observed in analyses stratified by smoking and time from exposure to spirometry and when we restricted to workers without prespill lung disease.



Among oil spill workers, exposure to PM2.5 specifically from controlled burning of oil/gas was associated with significantly lower FEV1 and FEV1/FVC when compared with workers not involved in burning.