On Thursday August 18, Dr. Larry Engel, associate professor in the UNC Department of Epidemiology and UNC Center for Environmental Health and Susceptibility member, was invited to present his research at a UNC Institute for the Environment (IE) Brown Bag Seminar. The seminars are designed for sharing environmental science research studies in UNC IE and in other departments working on relevant research. This talk focused on the GuLF STUDY, which was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to understand potential cancer and other health outcomes among persons working around the five-state area surrounding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Engel’s overview of the GuLF STUDY detailed how he and other researchers enrolled, in two years, a cohort of over 32,000 people from all 50 states who had worked or volunteered to assist with the gulf oil spill, using surveys to capture data about their exposures. He further explained the work with a subset of cohort members who participated in home visits and clinical exams across another two-year time frame, enabling researchers to study community concerns about potentially higher levels of oil-spill related exposures and implications for human health. Epidemiology doctoral student Emily Werder accompanied Engel and presented an overview on her related research on the neurological effects of ambient exposure to the industrial chemical styrene. Highlighting that there is a need for increased research on the environmental exposure to styrene and its health effects, Werder explained that her research entails studying the sources of ambient VOCs and comparing blood levels to VOC concentrations in GuLF Study participants.
Both Engel and Werder discussed how they are collaborating with experts in UNC IE’s Center for Environmental Modeling for Policy Development (CEMPD) to study potential connections between ambient concentrations of contaminants from the oil spill and other catastrophic events and various health outcomes.