Little is known about the effects of inhalation exposures on lung function among workers involved in the mitigation of oil spills. Our objective was to determine the relationship between oil spill response work and lung function 1–3 years after the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) disaster.
We evaluated spirometry for 7,775 adults living in the Gulf states who either participated in DWH response efforts (workers) or received safety training but were not hired (nonworkers). At an enrollment interview, we collected detailed work histories including information on potential exposure to dispersants and burning oil/gas. We assessed forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1; mL), forced vital capacity (FVC; mL), and the ratio (FEV1/FVC%) for differences by broad job classes and exposure to dispersants or burning oil/gas using multivariable linear and modified Poisson regression.
We found no differences between workers and nonworkers. Among workers, we observed a small decrement in FEV1 (Beta, −71 mL; 95% confidence interval [CI], −127 to −14) in decontamination workers compared with support workers. Workers with high potential exposure to burning oil/gas had reduced lung function compared with unexposed workers: FEV1 (Beta, −183 mL; 95% CI, −316 to −49) and FEV1/FVC (Beta, −1.93%; 95% CI, −3.50 to −0.36), and an elevated risk of having a FEV1/FVC in the lowest tertile (prevalence ratio, 1.38; 95% CI, 0.99 to 1.92).
While no differences in lung function were found between workers and nonworkers, lung function was reduced among decontamination workers and workers with high exposure to burning oil/gas compared with unexposed workers.