Does an Oil Spill Put Women’s Health in Peril?

Maureen Lichtveld, Freeport McMoRan chair of Environmental Policy, Department of Global Environmental Health Sciences.

Maureen Lichtveld, Freeport McMoRan chair of Environmental Policy, is leading a five-year study to explore the potential health impacts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on pregnant women and women of reproductive age living in Louisiana’s coastal parishes. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has awarded a $6.5 million grant for the study.

This is the first long-term study to examine the effects of a major oil spill on pregnant women and women’s health, says Lichtveld, who chairs the Department of Global Environmental Health Sciences.

“Pregnant women are always a population of concern when there are environmental exposures, as the developing fetus may be vulnerable to even small doses of contaminants,” she says. “To our knowledge, this is also the first study to examine maternal stress and anxiety related to a major oil spill and the associated effects on birth outcomes, fetal health, and family-planning behavior.”

The grant created the Transdisciplinary Research Consortium for Gulf Resilience on Women’s Health at Tulane. The consortium, known by the acronym GROWH, will quantify potential exposure levels among women to environmental contaminants via seafood consumption and air emissions; study how disasters affect reproduction decisions; and explore how environmental and social disparities affect women’s health and pregnancies.
The study covers Jefferson, Lafourche, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and Terrebonne parishes. The consortium will partner with community groups to conduct its research.

“The entire research consortium is centered around community-based participatory research,” Lichtveld says. “Our communities will help design the studies, are active partners in implementing the studies, and will play a leadership role in translating and disseminating the study results. This assures that we make science work for our communities.”

The consortium will work with Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corp., Bayou Interfaith Sharing Community Organizing, and Women Infant and Children (WIC) clinics in the affected parishes to conduct the study.

—Keith Brannon

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About Tulane University SPHTM

Tulane's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine is the oldest school of public health in the country and the only American school of tropical medicine. Our mission is to advance public health knowledge, promote health and well-being, and prevent disease, disability, and premature mortality. This is accomplished through academic excellence in education of public health professionals, rigorous scientific research of public health problems, creative partnerships to advance the practice of public health, and innovative service to the local, national, and international public health community.
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