Deepwater Horizon Still Plagues the Health of Children a Decade Later

Research says children suffered physical and mental health as a result of the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history

Drew Costley
OneZero
Published in
4 min readJul 23, 2020

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A photo illustration of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in flames, with fire crews trying to put it out.
Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 21, 2010 near New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo illustration. Photo: Handout/Getty Images

This is The Color of Climate, a weekly column from OneZero exploring how climate change and other environmental issues uniquely impact the future of communities of color.

A Google Image search of “Deepwater Horizon aftermath” brings up an onslaught of sludge — pictures of animals, detritus, and large swaths of the Gulf of Mexico covered in crude oil. Since the massive BP-operated drilling rig exploded and led to a months-long oil spill in 2010, the area has seen massive losses to marine life, the generation of at least 35,000 tons of spill-related solid waste, and oil covering over 57,000 square miles of the Gulf.

The explosion killed 11 workers and injured 17 others, but the physical and mental health effects of the event went far beyond that, largely affecting poor people and communities of color. Thousands of people in the region became sick with a range of ailments six years after the spill, including seizures, dizziness, and leukemia. Eighty-eight workers who helped clean it up had worsening cardiac and pulmonary conditions seven years after exposure. Now, research published in the journal Environmental Hazards shows that children who grew up in the Gulf during the spill and its aftermath also experienced lasting physical and emotional effects.

In 2014, researchers from Columbia University surveyed over 700 parents living in areas of coastal Louisiana that were most affected by the spill. This included the New Orleans metropolitan area, which is 35% Black and 9% Hispanic; 17.5% of the population lives below the poverty line while the national rate is 13.1%. When the oil spill occurred, the population was still recovering from the devastation caused by historic hurricanes like Katrina and Rita, and trying to prepare for future storms and sea-level rise.

“It was not a good feeling to see that kids were still suffering because of the oil spill.”

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Drew Costley
OneZero

Drew Costley is a Staff Writer at FutureHuman covering the environment, health, science and tech. Previously @ SFGate, East Bay Express, USA Today, etc.