News Release: Faculty Experts, People

Jun. 22,  2010

Emory Environmentalist Explores Oil Spill's Health Risks at IOM Workshop

News Article ImageLinda McCauley, dean of Emory's Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and a nationally recognized environmental health researcher.

The Gulf oil spill could have far-reaching effects on the health of residents and workers in the Gulf Coast, ranging from respiratory ailments and neurological problems to heat stress and mental health disorders, says Emory University environmental health expert Linda McCauley.

McCauley, RN, PhD, FAAN, FAAOHN, dean of Emory's Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and a nationally recognized environmental health researcher, is one of more than a dozen scientists participating in a two-day Institute of Medicine (IOM) workshop in New Orleans exploring the potential short- and long-term health impact of the nation's worst oil spill.

The workshop, "Assessing the Human Health Effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: An Institute of Medicine Workshop," convened today and unites experts from the U.S. scientific community, academia and public health with expertise in addressing health effects after disasters such as the World Trade Center collapse and Hurricane Katrina.

"We must act now to improve health outcomes for Gulf Coast residents and relief workers," says McCauley. "I look forward to working with this powerful cadre of health experts from the Institute of Medicine as we educate the public about the short-term and long-term health effects of the oil spill. With every disaster, we learn more in terms of how to deal with it."

Video interview with Linda McCauley.
Additional videos available.

McCauley's expertise includes the psychological stress of the spill and its toll on the population. She says the impact of this disaster on the mental health of residents and workers in the Gulf is of concern and should be addressed immediately.

"What we're expecting to see is increased reports of depression, family violence, alcoholism and substance abuse. All of the things that we know can happen when families are stressed to the maximum," says McCauley. "It's imperative that we work proactively to give these communities the help that they need."

In addition to the mental health toll, McCauley says attention must be given to the massive clean-up needed and the lack of preparation and education of the workers called in to do this work, as well as the need to monitor exposures not only to the oil and its byproducts, but the chemical dispersants being used to clean the environment.

"It's very important that scientists be on the ground meeting with people who are working to clean up the area and the people who live in these communities," says McCauley.

McCauley is frequently asked to serve in advisory roles on national panels examining the impact of environmental threats on health, most recently serving on the Advisory Committee for the Farmworker Health and Safety Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Biosurveillance Advisory Subcommittee, the Institute of Medicine Committee to Evaluate Agent Orange and Vietnam Veterans, and the Board of Scientific Counselors for the CDC National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Hear McCauley talk more about the potential short- and long-term health effects of the Gulf oil spill.

Learn more about the IOM workshop underway in New Orleans.

Watch a live Web cast of the IOM workshop June 22 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET.


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