To explore the need for appropriate surveillance systems to monitor the spill’s potential short- and long-term health effects on affected communities and individuals, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) contracted with the IOM to convene the public workshop Assessing the Human Health Effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill in the Gulf region. Nancy Adler chaired a six-member planning committee.2 The workshop explored available scientific evidence about oil spills’ effects on human health to guide the development of appropriate surveillance systems and to establish possible directions for additional research. Specifically, HHS asked the IOM to: (1) identify and discuss the populations most vulnerable to or at increased risk for adverse health effects, including worker sub-populations; (2) review current knowledge and identify knowledge gaps regarding the human health effects of exposure to oil, weathered oil products, dispersants, and environmental conditions such as heat; (3) consider effective communication strategies to convey information about health risks to at-risk populations, accounting for cultural, health literacy, linguistic, technological, and geographical barriers; (4) explore research methodologies and appropriate data collection to further our understanding of the risks to human health; and (5) review and assess components of a framework for short-term and long-term surveillance to monitor the spill’s potential adverse health effects.
The 2-day workshop included expert presentations, six panel discussions, and an open-microphone dialogue with the audience. Sessions were designed to focus mainly on one of the five charges described above, but some overlap occurred. An additional goal of the workshop was to afford substantial opportunity to hear from members of the public. To accomplish this goal, the planning committee designed four methods for members of the public to submit their questions and comments to the workshop: (1) submitting electronic comments through the IOM website; (2) submitting a written comment sheet during the workshop; (3) completing question cards for individual panels; and (4) speaking during the workshop’s public comment session. Appendix D includes a brief