This post, written by Missy Partyka, originally appeared in the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium’s weekly staff blog.
What do the COVID-19 pandemic and the use of dispersants during oil spills have in common? In a word: anxiety. In a few more: fear, concern, distrust and a perceived lack of transparency. During the global pandemic, many coastal residents have been hurt economically if not necessarily physically. They may have experienced declining mental health even if they have not been infected by the novel coronavirus. Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (DWH) in 2010, communities across the Gulf suffered in many similar ways. The use of dispersants to combat the spill may have exacerbated these impacts for many; not because the dispersants themselves were harming people, but rather because their widespread use was something new, something novel, something unknown. Not to mention that media coverage was nearly constant. Sound familiar?
Beginning in April of this year, my colleagues at the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium (MASGC) and I redeveloped a peer-listening program originally deployed in the wake of DWH. It was apparent that many of the reactions community members were having to COVID-19 echoed those of 2010, and so it was believed that members of MASGC and the entire National Sea Grant network would benefit from updated training on peer-listening and the symptoms of declining mental health. To fit in with the times, the entire training series was done virtually; the videos and materials for which can be downloaded here.
Three-part webinar series addresses impacts of oil spills on human health
In addition, the Gulf Sea Grant oil spill science outreach team, has developed a three-part webinar series focused on the true, potential and perceived impacts to human health following an oil spill. Parts one and two, held in June and July, focused on impacts to air quality and water quality, respectively.
Part 3, the final in the series, will be held 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. CDT on Thursday, Aug. 27, and will address the use of dispersants. Topics will include not only studies on potential physical impacts but also mental health effects. The speakers are from diverse backgrounds and experiences, but they share a common interest, communicating the risk associated with the use of dispersants during oil spill response.
Dr. Richard Judson, a research toxicologist and modeler with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was one of the researchers tasked with determining the potential toxicity, or harm, of multiple potential chemical dispersants, including Corexit, during DWH. He will discuss his research and share how toxicity studies are used to determine the use of chemicals in the environment.
Dr. Thomas Coolbaugh is a former research chemist and technology adviser at ExxonMobil and is now the project manager at the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s Ohmsett facility in New Jersey. Tom has a demonstrated ability to communicate with a wide variety of audiences about response strategies in the oil and gas industry, as well as the use of chemical dispersants during an oil spill.
Dr. Melissa Finucane spent the last several years as the director of the GoMRI-funded Consortium for Resilient Gulf Communities tasked with assessing and addressing the public health, social and economic impacts of DWH. Melissa, with an additional role as the senior social and behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation, will discuss her research on the impacts risk communication and community perception on mental health in communities affected by DWH.
Registration is now open for this event. Talks by these speakers will be followed by a live Question/Answer session.
We look forward to sharing the work of these scientists with our community members and to having an open and engaging discussion about their work on this important topic. Please join us!