Five years have passed since the Deepwater Horizon explosion took 11 lives and spilled more than 134 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, disrupting millions of lives and costing millions of dollars to the tourism and fishing industries.
Researchers from five universities led by the University of Florida waded into the aftermath of that epic disaster to find out what its long-term impacts were and what lessons could be learned from the largest accidental oil spill in history.
“We were talking to people before the oil stopped spilling,” said Glenn Morris, director of UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute and lead investigator in the $6.5 million five-year study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Morris and four panelists — all experts in disaster response — spoke about the disaster and its aftermath at the Bob Graham Center for Public Service on Monday night.
The group studied three specific research areas, interviewing hundreds of people in coastal communities in Levy, Dixie, Franklin, Santa Rosa and Escambia counties in Florida, and Baldwin County, Alabama.
Lynn Grattan of the University of Maryland measured individual and family resiliency; Brian Mayer of Arizona State University measured community resiliency; and UF’s Andy Kane studied seafood safety. Other universities in the study were the University of New Orleans and the University of West Florida.
The mental-health impact was extreme, Morris said. There was a 40 percent incidence of mental health problems including depression and anxiety immediately after the spill, he said. That has gone down to 20 percent — which is still about double what one would expect for the general population.