Incidence of chronic respiratory conditions among oil spill responders: Five years of follow-up in the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Coast Guard Cohort study

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Over ten years after the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill, our understanding of long term respiratory health risks associated with oil spill response exposures is limited. We conducted a prospective analysis in a cohort of U.S. Coast Guard personnel with universal military healthcare.


For all active duty cohort members (N = 45,193) in the DWH Oil Spill Coast Guard Cohort Study we obtained medical encounter data from October 01, 2007 to September 30, 2015 (i.e., ~2.5 years pre-spill; ~5.5 years post-spill). We used Cox Proportional Hazards regressions to calculate adjusted hazard ratios (aHR), comparing risks for incident respiratory conditions/symptoms (2010–2015) for: responders vs. non-responders; responders reporting crude oil exposure, any inhalation of crude oil vapors, and being in the vicinity of burning crude oil versus responders without those exposures. We also evaluated self-reported crude oil and oil dispersant exposures, combined. Within-responder comparisons were adjusted for age, sex, and smoking.


While elevated aHRs for responder/non-responder comparisons were generally weak, within-responder comparisons showed stronger risks with exposure to crude oil. Notably, for responders reporting exposure to crude oil via inhalation, there were elevated risks for all sinusitis (aHR = 1.48; 95%CI, 1.06–2.06), unspecified chronic sinusitis (aHR = 1.55; 95%CI, 1.08–2.22), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other allied conditions (aHR = 1.43; 95%CI, 1.00–2.06), and dyspnea and respiratory abnormalities (aHR = 1.29; 95%CI, 1.00–1.67); there was a suggestion of elevated risk for diseases classified as asthma and reactive airway diseases (aHR = 1.18; 95%CI, 0.98–1.41), including the specific condition, asthma (aHR = 1.35; 95%CI, 0.80–2.27), the symptom, shortness of breath (aHR = 1.50; 95%CI, 0.89–2.54), and the overall classification of chronic respiratory conditions (aHR = 1.18; 95%CI, 0.98–1.43). Exposure to both crude oil and dispersant was positively associated with elevated risk for shortness of breath (HR = 2.24; 95%CI, 1.09–4.64).


Among active duty Coast Guard personnel, oil spill clean-up exposures were associated with moderately increased risk for longer term respiratory conditions.