Investigating the effect of oil spills
on the environment and public health.
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Funding Source: Year 6-8 Investigator Grants (RFP-V)

Project Overview

Understanding Resilience Attributes for Children, Youth, and Communities in the Wake of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Principal Investigator
Louisiana State University
Department of Sociology
Member Institutions
Columbia University, Louisiana State University


This proposal outlines a research agenda to assess the public health impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DH) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (Theme 5 in GoMRI RFP-V), with special emphasis on the impacts of the disaster on children and their families over time. The project will leverage face-toface household interview data (N=692) collected by Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) in 2014 on child and family health impacts in DH spill affected areas to build a three wave longitudinal data set with the 91% (N=629) of respondents who agreed to participate in subsequent follow up surveys. As in the first wave, the quantitative survey data will be complemented by qualitative focus group data collected from a smaller subsample of respondents. In contrast to repeated cross-sectional designs that allow for estimates of change in the aggregate, the three wave longitudinal design proposed here will allow for the measurement of within-unit change over time. This therefore raises the question: among those sampled in wave 1 of the NCDP data, is there evidence that health impacts on children and their families is improving, worsening, or staying about the same as the years go by? To answer this question, this study will pay close attention to more established aspects of social vulnerability and resilience (e.g., socio-demographics, social capital and network structures) as well as newer dimensions of these concepts that are beginning to emerge in the literature (e.g., online social media). An additional source of innovation is the effort to embed longitudinal qualitative interviews (focus groups) within a longitudinal quantitative study of the same individuals.

Specifically, the proposed research asks the following research questions: Q1: What are the impacts of disaster-related trauma on children and families exposed to the 2010 DH oil spill, both in terms of physical and mental health effects as well as social consequences, such as increased risk behaviors, and decreased economic and educational opportunities? Q2: What is the relationship of primary and secondary stressors on these outcomes? Q3: What attributes of children and families are related to greater resilience to negative disaster-related impacts? Conversely, what attributes of children and families are related to greater vulnerability to negative impacts? Q3a: How does resilience/vulnerability vary across key sociodemographic groups, economic/occupational types (e.g., fishers and oil/gas workers), and families with different levels of social capital (e.g., social network structures and trust) or attachment to the social or natural environment? Q3b: What role do online social networks play in facilitating resilience? Q4: What sorts of issues are children confronting as a result of the oil spill and what sorts of measures do children, families, and community stakeholders see as being needed in response? Q5: How do all of the above change over time?

The ultimate goals of this research project are to: 1) Assess the public health and social impacts of the DH oil spill with a special focus on children and their families; 2) Identify attributes of children and families associated with resilience to negative disaster impacts and, conversely, attributes of children and families associated with vulnerability to negative disaster impacts; 3) Build a three wave panel dataset that allows for the assessment of within-unit change (i.e., children and their families) related to impacts, resilience, and vulnerability; 4) Train graduate students in disaster resilience research to help build the next generation of scholars dedicated to these issues; and 5) Make the information generated from this project actionable with the aim of helping facilitate disaster resilience and mitigate vulnerability.

Project Research Overview (2016):

An overview of the proposed research activities from the GoMRI 2016 Meeting in Tampa.

Direct link to the Research Overview presentation.

This research was made possible by a grant from BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.