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Assessing the Effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill on Human Health: A Summary of the June 2010 Workshop
life that also may increase the risk of cancer. This type of analysis requires a long-term commitment.
Addressing the direct effects of the oil spill on the environment, an audience member suggested that although naturally existing bacteria ingest and break down some of the chemical compounds in oil, these oil-metabolizing bacteria require oxygen. An increase in their numbers caused by a large food source could result in an even larger dead zone (which could cause indirect, adverse effects on human health, as Goldstein pointed out during his presentation).
Use Electronic Health Records for Surveillance and Research
A few audience members suggested that U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) technology funds be leveraged. Funding could be redirected to improve electronic health record keeping in the affected areas, and electronic health records could be used for surveillance. Some of the new information technologies could also be used to increase local participation in health research. As an example of how helpful new information technology can be, another workshop participant identified something called the Oil Spill Crisis Map (Louisiana Bucket Brigade, 2010) as a good example of a participatory research tool, which at the time of the workshop had already received 900 hits since May 1, 2010. Citizens can add information to the map through e-mail, Twitter, and other means, reporting on experiences related to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, such as reports of sores or blisters as a result of wading in oil-contaminated water. Something like the Oil Spill Crisis Map could be a valuable tool for tracking long-term health impacts or for identifying “hotspots.”
One participant remarked that “technology alone is not going to solve the whole issue” and that new technologies need a dedicated workforce behind them. Another participant expressed concern that, in areas where the average annual income approaches “Third World country status,” relying on Internet surveys may not be practical. However, in areas with reliable Internet access, one person suggested that cell phones may be an underutilized tool.