The explosion and subsequent leak from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig quickly captivated the attention of residents in Southeast Louisiana and throughout the Gulf Coast. For faculty in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, the oil leak presented opportunities for research, collaboration, and education.
LuAnn White, professor and director of the Tulane Center for Applied Environmental Public Health, was interviewed almost daily in the weeks following the spill, appearing in news stories from New Orleans to London to the Middle East. White provided a balanced view of the effects of the spill, based on her long experience at Tulane as well as her role as a toxicologist for the State of Louisiana.
Both she and colleague Assaf Abdelghani, professor, have been actively involved in the state’s efforts to monitor seafood and ensure that seafood in the marketplace is safe for consumers. The state’s seafood monitoring program closed fishing areas where oil had been sighted, chemically tested thousands of seafood specimens, and performed sensory analysis to detect any contamination at docks and processors. Such a three-tier line of defense makes contamination unlikely in anything that gets to market, according to White.
Maureen Lichtveld, Freeport McMoRan Chair of Environmental Policy, helped to organize an Institute of Medicine (IOM) workshop on health issues resulting from the oil disaster. She also presented at the workshop, which was aimed at scientists and researchers. Throughout the disaster, Lichtveld contributed to interviews with the media and made numerous presentations at other conferences and events. She also published a viewpoint article in the Association of American Medical Colleges’ Reporter and is the co-author of an article about the oil spill under consideration by the New England Journal of Medicine.
For the future, researchers are considering what is not known about the environmental health effects of oil disasters and what can now be learned. A team of collaborators from environmental health sciences is currently collaborating and seeking grant funding to conduct longer term research to study the effects of the oil spill.
Following the IOM meeting, Lichtveld commented, “The health of the ecosystem is inextricably linked to the health of a population. The school of public health has a unique responsibility, and I take that seriously. We should accept nothing less than making science work for communities.”