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Sunday September 21st 2014

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The Doctor Is In

The GuLF STUDY—a federal exploration into possible health impacts following the 2010 oil spill—is heading south for another tour.

“Just Florida this time,” said Dr. Dale Sandler, as she prepared for her trip.

Sandler, chief of the epidemiology branch at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, is heading up the Gulf Long-term Follow-up Study (GuLF STUDY). Her team will be in the Pensacola area tomorrow.

“I think the size of the study is one of the largest health studies in the Gulf of Mexico region,” Sandler said.

The federal study is looking at possible health impacts following the oil spill. Specifically, it is concentrating on individuals who participated in the clean-up efforts, as well as coastal residents.

The study aims to enroll 55,000 participants. Thus far, Sandler reported, there are around 10,000 signed up.

“We’ve still got a long way to go,” she said. “We’ve set this ambitious goal for ourselves.”

The epidemiologist said that the study’s staff has been quadrupled to be better tackle the work load.

Participants in the study will be asked to open up their medical histories to researchers, as well as their homes—the study requires in-house visits.

“We do find that it’s more difficult to get these people to let us stay four hours in their home then it is for a one-hour phone interview,” Sandler said.

So far, the study has logged about 1,500 home interviews. Approximately 26 percent of the current participants are Florida residents.

The GuLF team has previously made jaunts to other Gulf states. This past fall, they hit Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Sandler said that her team is finding some reasons for concern, but not all of them are spill-related. Areas of the Gulf of Mexico region, the doctor said, appear to have populations with untended to health issues. She mentions risks such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

“They haven’t been paying attention,” Sandler explained, “because they’ve never had a job with health insurance.”

Since their last run along the Gulf Coast, the study team has tweaked surveys to reflect knowledge gleaned. The issue of skin rashes, for example, now receives a bit more attention.

“We’re trying to make the survey responsive,” Sandler said.

During the team’s last trip—to Louisiana—they received some push-back from a Gulf community that is, at times, skeptical about the study’s legitimacy. That sentiment is well-represented by Dr. Mike Robicheux, a former senator who has embraced the concept of detoxification as a means to combat health impacts from the spill.

“I think his heart is in the right place,” Sandler said about Robicheux.

The federal researcher said that her team has not looked into detoxification, though she did say she viewed the two varying approaches as “working in parallel.”

“I don’t know a whole lot about it,” Sandler said of detox treatments. “It may work, but it’s not, it’s not part of western medicine—it’s not what I do.”

The GuLF STUDY team will be conducting meetings in Gulf Breeze and Panama City, this time out. The local meeting will be held tomorrow, Jan. 18, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church Community Life Center, 4115 Soundside Drive.

For more information on the study, visit nihgulfstudy.org.