The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused social disruption and psychological stress among Gulf residents that is similar to the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez spill and the impacts are likely to persist for years, a new study finds.
"Just ask the residents of Cordova today whether they are over the Exxon Valdez," said study co-author Liesel Ritchie, assistant director for research of the University of Colorado Boulder's Natural Hazards Center. The Alaska community was considered "ground zero" for the 1989 oil spill.
The research was a collaborative effort among Ritchie, Duane Gill of Oklahoma State University and J. Steven Picou of the University of South Alabama, each of whom did similar work in Cordova. Major funding was provided by the National Science Foundation and the study's results have been accepted for publication in two peer-reviewed journals.
The study focused on the residents of south Mobile County, Ala. The area along the Gulf includes the towns of Bayou la Batre and Dauphin Island, and numerous unincorporated communities.
Using a random telephone survey modeled after previous work on the Exxon Valdez spill, the University of South Alabama Polling Group in September 2010 received responses from 412 residents or 46 percent of those contacted. All responders were age 18 or older and had lived in the area for at least a year.
Major findings of the survey included the following:
People with commercial ties to damaged natural resources suffered the greatest impacts, the authors found.
"Given the social scientific evidence amassed over the years in Prince William Sound, Alaska, we can only conclude that social disruption and psychological stress will characterize residents of Gulf Coast communities for decades to come," the authors wrote.
Like the Exxon Valdez, and technological disasters in general, the aftermath of the BP oil spill will include "contested" scientific evidence concerning ecological damages, secondary traumas resulting from the claims process and litigation, and serious community conflict and mental health problems, the authors wrote.
The study's results will be published in forthcoming editions of the journals American Behavioral Scientist and Contexts.
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