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NCCOS Project

Evaluating Changes in Health and Well-being in Communities Affected by the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

This project began in January 2011 and was completed in January 2013

We are exploring how environmental changes that resulted from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster of 2010 are affecting human health and well-being in neighboring coastal communities. Federal, state, and academic collaborators have identified indicators that will help us understand the links between the general health and well-being of communities and changing environmental conditions.

Why We Care
Coastal communities are often impacted by both natural and industrial disasters, such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Until now, there has been no comprehensive effort to quantify or track changes in health and well-being in communities affected by such disasters. This project will develop a set of indicators and a monitoring method that will help us measure changes in people’s health and well-being when affected by catastrophic changes to ecosystem condition and the ecosystem services provided by coastal systems, such as loss of fisheries, clean water, and beautiful beaches.

The project will inform efforts to alleviate harm from similar disasters, will help local officials prepare and protect communities from harmful impacts, and will support disaster recovery efforts.

What We Did
We are developing a method to monitor the relationship between the health and well-being of coastal residents and the health of the adjacent coastal environment. The method uses indicators of human well-being identified by a group of experts from federal, state, and academic programs, as well as other indicators identified as particularly useful in published well-being indices.

These indicators are:

  • health (disease rates, infant mortality)
  • safety
  • economic security
  • governance
  • education
  • access to food, water, and housing
  • access to social services (e.g. hospitals, social support services)
  • connectedness

Indicators are measured and analyzed using existing data collected by other agencies and organizations.

Our research covers coastal counties directly affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, as well as a selection of unaffected counties for comparison. We are compiling annual data for 2000–2010 for these counties. These will serve as a baseline of well-being for the Gulf coast counties.

Next Steps
We are soliciting guidance from potential users to produce a publicly available, user-friendly database complete with maps and other tools. Web-accessible data will become part of ongoing efforts to monitor coastal communities and their responses to changes in the environment.

By establishing a way to monitor changes in well-being associated with hazardous events, we will be better able to assess the social impacts of environmental disasters such as oil spills and hurricanes and related changes in environmental conditions such as declines in water quality and changes in shorelines.

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NCCOS delivers ecosystem science solutions for stewardship of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources to sustain thriving coastal communities and economies.

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