The impacts of the BP Oil Spill on individuals, businesses, and communities will take a long time to become fully realized. Recent survey research helps to document the broad scope and scale of these impacts. Understanding what people are going through will be vital for targeting assistance efforts to mitigate the negative economic and social impacts. This information should also be helpful as lawsuits are launched against BP and other companies. The stories collected here point to the kinds of questions that need to be answered through careful social science research.
Click below to read results from a variety of surveys.
When it comes to getting information about the BP oil spill, Gulf Coast residents trust Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana more than Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, and they trust Mr. Barbour more than President Obama. Most of them do not think it is safe to eat local seafood. More than a third report children with new rashes or breathing problems, or who are nervous, fearful or “very sad” since the spill began. And even though the gusher of oil has been stanched, almost a quarter of residents still fear that they will have to move.
Those are some of the findings of the first major survey of Gulf Coast residents conducted since the BP well was capped. The survey, conducted from July 19 to 25 by the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, suggests that the spill’s effects have not been contained along with the oil itself. The survey included 1,200 coastal residents in Louisiana and Mississippi, most of whom live within 10 miles of the ocean.
“There’s been a very overt effort by BP and the Coast Guard to project a sense that the crisis is over, but this is far from the case,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of the center and president of the Children’s Health Fund, a sponsor of the survey. “Our survey shows a persistent and overwhelming level of anxiety among families living near the coast, driven by both medical symptoms in their children as well as a substantial level of psychological stress.”
One in five reported that their household income had dropped since the spill. Forty-three percent said they had been directly exposed to oil, either at beaches, on their property or in helping with the cleanup. Those who had been exposed were more than twice as likely to report that their children had developed physical or mental health problems since the spill. Also, families that had more concerns about their children’s mental health were more likely to report that they are considering moving. …
“Mentally it’s putting a strain on me and my whole family,” said Ms. Mareno, a mother of two whose husband, a fisherman, also lost his job. “I’m just ready to get my family out of here.” Dr. Redlener acknowledged that it was difficult to pinpoint which ailments were related to the spill, but he said the researchers had made an effort to be conservative. The study excluded any children who had emotional or behavioral problems before the spill from its calculation that 19 percent of children had developed such problems.
It is not clear how much money is available to pay for mental health treatment for parents and children. Kenneth Feinberg, who is administering the BP claims process, has said mental health claims will not be covered. BP is considering requests from Mississippi and Louisiana for $39 million to cover mental health treatment through October 2011. Physical health problems will be covered under the claims process, a spokesman for BP said.
Governor Jindal won praise for both his handling of the spill and for his trustworthiness, with 78 percent of Louisiana residents saying they trusted him “a great deal” or “a good amount.” He was trailed by local officials (75 percent), the Coast Guard (73 percent) and, among Mississippians, Governor Barbour (58 percent). Forty-eight percent of the respondents said they trusted Mr. Obama, and 31 percent said they trusted BP officials.
The survey showed some other differences in attitudes between Mississippi and Louisiana. In Louisiana, fewer than half of the participants said they thought it was not safe to eat gulf seafood. But in Mississippi, where the seafood industry is smaller, three-quarters were of the opinion that local seafood was not safe. Mississippi families were more likely to have cut back on beach trips and fishing than Louisiana families. Fewer than five percent of the respondents said they had received any compensation from BP.
“Impact on Children and Families of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Preliminary Findings of the Coastal Population Impact Study,” David Abramson, Irwin Redlener, Tasha Stehling-Ariza, Jonathan Sury, Akilah Banister, Yoon Soo Park; National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Research Brief 2010:8. Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, New York. (Release date 3 Aug 2010).
Although the ruptured Deepwater Horizon oil well was capped on July 15, 2010, an estimated 3 to 5 million barrels of oil spilled in to the Gulf of Mexico over a three-month period. Several surveys prior to the capping of the well documented the concerns and immediate effects of the oil spill on coastal residents. As the “acute phase” of the oil spill transitions to a longer-term “chronic phase,” researchers at Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness, in collaboration with the Children’s Health Fund and The Marist Poll, interviewed over 1,200 coastal residents in Louisiana and Mississippi, with a particular focus on the short and potential long-term impact of the disaster on children.
This study was informed by work the researchers have done post-Katrina as part of the Gulf Coast Child & Family Health Study, which has documented the enduring effects on impacted populations in the two states, particularly children. Key findings are as follow:
- Over 40% of the population living within ten miles of the coast had experienced some direct exposure to the oil spill.
- Over one-third of parents reported that their children had experienced either physical symptoms or mental health distress as a consequence of the oil spill.
- One in five households has seen their income decrease as a result of the oil spill, and eight percent have lost jobs. Only five percent of coastal residents reported having received any cash or gift cards from BP, although over fifteen percent believe they may be eligible for compensation from BP for health consequences of the spill.
- Over one-quarter of coastal residents think they may have to move from the area because of the oil sp ill.
Much the way Hurricane Katrina had its greatest effect on those populations with the fewest economic resources, the Deepwater oil spill has also had its greatest impact among those with the least. Coastal residents earning less than $25,000 annual household income were more likely to report having lost income than those earning more, more likely to think they would have to move, more likely to report an effect on children’s ability to play on the coast or in the Gulf waters, and more likely to report physical and mental health effects among their children.
As environmental scientists have begun to assess the long-term effect of the oil spill on the Gulf’s marine ecology, this research marks an equivalent effort to begin exploring the long-term impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf’s social ecology – the coastal residents, their economy, and their way of life. In an area still recovering from the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, the oil spill represents a significant test of a population’s resiliency.
Over one-third of all children had either a mental health or physical health from the oil disaster. Researchers added the proportion of parents who reported their children experienced only mental health symptoms without physical problems (7%) and the proportion who reported that their children exhibited both physical and mental health symptoms (12%), to show that one-in-five children are experiencing mental health distress. There were statistically significant differences between children based on race and on income.
It is difficult to determine with certainty what proportion of clinical symptoms is a direct result of the oil spill. Across both child and adult health effects, it appears that between 16-21% may be associated with exposure to the oil spill and to the cleanup. On average, adults and children exposed to the oil spill are twice as likely to report these physical and mental health symptoms, as are those who have not been exposed.
Coastal residents reported notable economic effects of the oil spill, as well. One-in-five (21%) reported that their household income had decreased because of the oil spill. Households with children were significantly more likely to report this decreased income (24%) than were households without children (18%).
This study explored a number of decisions related to the oil spill facing coastal residents on a daily basis – whether it was safe to eat local seafood; whether they have changed their summer plans, or restricted their children’s recreational activities in the Gulf; and their thoughts about having to move from the Gulf Coast. Overall, 27% of coastal residents think they may have to move from the area, a number significantly higher among those earning less than $25,000 annually.
When asked who they trusted to provide accurate and reliable information about the oil spill, similar trends held: Governor Jindal was the most trusted public figure, followed by local officials (75%), county executives or parish presidents (73%), and the US Coast Guard (73%). Less trusted were Governor Barbour (58%), President Obama (48%), and BP officials (31%)
In the years since Hurricane Katrina, chaos and uncertainty had generally subsided and the people in the Gulf Coast had returned – or were on their way to returning – to more stable lives. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill has potentially re-introduced an element of uncertainty to people’s lives. While some of the economic effects of the oil spill were immediately evident, others were less clear. In town hall meetings and focus groups conducted prior to this survey, the researchers heard coastal residents describe concerns that ranged from worries about declining property values and loss of a way of life, to fears of long-term health carcinogenic health effects. Economic and health concerns are widespread among coastal residents. There may be a substantial relationship between parent’s concerns and uncertainty and their children’s mental health. The human impact of the oil spill in the Gulf Coast’s “social ecology,” that of its residents, communities, and social networks, may only be accelerated by such uncertainty.
LSU Sociology Professors Matthew Lee and Troy Blanchard have conducted a survey to gain an understanding of the health impacts the ongoing Deepwater Horizon disaster is having on people living in Louisiana’s coastal communities. “Louisiana’s coastal communities are the most geographically proximate human settlements to the actual disaster site,” said Lee. “It is imperative that we begin work now to better understand the human impacts of this situation because the results are expected to be long-lasting and diverse.”
The researchers, in conjunction with LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab, conducted a telephone survey beginning June 17, less than 60 days after the onset of the Deepwater Horizon blowout. Investigators conducted more than 900 interviews with coastal Louisiana residents near the spill site. Prominent findings include:
- Self-rated stress has more than doubled since the oil spill, as compared to a year ago.
- Nearly 60 percent of the sample population reported feeling almost constant worry about the oil spill during the week before being interviewed.
- More than eight out of 10 respondents worry over family, friends and community survival due to complications caused by the oil spill. Seven in 10 are worried about having to move because of it.
- More than 35 percent reported experiencing headaches or migraines or feeling sick to their stomach some of the time or almost constantly in the week before the interview because of their worry over the oil spill; nearly 43 percent reported being unable to focus on their usual jobs or tasks because of their worry over the situation in the Gulf.
“The indication is, at least at this point, that the human health impacts are real and substantial,” said Blanchard. “Right now, the data suggest that significant public health resources may be required to assist residents in the coastal parishes of Louisiana in dealing with the consequences of this disaster.” The findings are enlightening and provide an empirical lens through which to assess the nature and extent of some of the early human impacts of this disaster. The main findings are as follows:
- Self-rated stress among respondents has more than doubled since the oil spill compared to a year ago.
- Nearly 60% of the sample reported feeling worried ALMOST CONSTANTLY DURING THE WEEK PRIOR TO THE INTERVIEW because of the oil spill.
More than 8 in 10 respondents are worried about how their family, friends, and fellow community members will make a living over the next couple of years because of the oil spill. Seven in 10 are worried about having to move because of it. This in a context where 60% of the respondents have lived in their community all of their life, and another 20% have lived there at least 20 years.
In summary, based on these data, the early indications are that the human health impacts of this event are real and substantial. Negative affective states, physiological symptoms, and disruptions to daily routines are evident, and are generally widespread. The findings suggest that significant public health resources may be needed to mitigate the pernicious consequences of this disaster for coastal Louisiana residents. More details include the following:
Since the oil spill first started, has it caused you to:
(Percent Answering ‘Yes’)
- Worry about how your family will be able to make a living over the next couple of years? (84%)
- Worry about how your friends and fellow community members will be able to make a living over the next couple of years? (89%)
- Worry about whether your community will survive over the next couple of years? (87%)
- Worry about whether you will have to move in the next couple of years? (72%)
Disruptions to Daily Routine (Percent Answering “Yes”)
- Worry prevented you from being able to take care of your family as well as you would like (46%)
- Worry prevented you from getting good night’s sleep (46%)
- Worry prevented you from being able to focus on your usual job or work (43%)
- Worry prevented you from taking care of your usual daily chores (40%)
- Worry prevented you from getting along well with friends (31%)
- Worry prevented you from getting along well with family members (32%)
These data, capturing a sample of adults from three coastal Louisiana parishes most proximate to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster site, reveal that residents are experiencing significant worry, fear, anger, sadness and anxiety due to the oil spill. They are specifically worried about their ability to maintain a livelihood and the prospect of having to leave their home communities. The stress associated with worrying about this disaster is resulting in both self-reported physiological ailments and disruptions in the performance of routine daily tasks like taking care of the family and focusing on work.
Collected approximately 2 months after the onset of the disaster, these data suggest the need for follow up studies to monitor the impacts on human populations over the medium and long term. The scope of sampling sites should be expanded to other affected communities along the Gulf Coast, and an expanded battery of health and stress indicators should be utilized.
The vast oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been more traumatic than Hurricane Katrina for coastal residents, with 30 percent of those interviewed apparently suffering mild to serious psychological distress, according to a survey by a health care provider released Thursday. The survey of 406 Gulf Coast residents, conducted for the nonprofit Ochsner Health System, found that the mental health impacts from the BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill were greatest for residents of Louisiana, the young and the poor.
Eighteen percent of Louisiana residents were suffering “probable serious” or “probable mild-moderate” mental illness based on the K6 psychological distress scale – more than double the rate found in a similar survey conducted in July 2007, two years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the state, the survey found. Fourteen percent of Floridians, 12 percent of Mississippians and 10 percent of Alabamans were similarly afflicted, it said.
Hardest hit were residents earning less than $25,000 annually, 32 percent of whom appeared to have “probable serious” mental illness on the K6 scale, it said. Young respondents (22 to 44 years old) were in the same category, with money and work being the two biggest causes of their stress.
The oil spill ravaging the Gulf of Mexico has inflicted widespread psychological distress among coastal residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, etching scars even deeper than those whipped by Hurricane Katrina, according to a survey by Ochsner Health System, a nonprofit, academic healthcare delivery system.
The survey of the four-state area, the first to measure mental health impacts after the explosion aboard BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the Louisiana coast on April 20, found three in every 10 people surveyed (30 percent) suffer from “probable serious” or “probable mild-moderate” mental illness, based on the K6 psychological distress scale. The percentage of those suffering from serious mental illness varied, depending on location:
- Louisiana: 18 percent
- Florida: 14 percent
- Mississippi: 12 percent
- Alabama: 10 percent
The percentage of Louisiana respondents afflicted with serious mental illness is double what it was among South Louisiana residents in July 2007, two years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the state. “To see so many people mired in psychological misery and in worse shape than they were after Katrina is disheartening,” said Dr. Joseph E. Bisordi, M.D., FACP, Ochsner’s chief medical officer. “This benchmark identifies the need for mental health services throughout the region. So that coastal residents can more quickly reclaim their lives, our region needs the immediate support of BP and the federal government to fund mental health resources. We cannot afford to delay any further.”
The younger respondents and those most financially vulnerable are at greatest peril for the mental health impacts of the calamitous spill, which has fouled fishing grounds, beaches and wetlands by gushing more than 92 million gallons into the Gulf, based on federal estimates. The lowest income category (less than $25,000 annually) has the largest percentage (32 percent) of respondents classified as having probable serious mental illness. In contrast, only two percent of respondents whose annual incomes are more than $100,000 have the same classification.
Gulf Coast residents reported the most stress from money problems (34 percent) and work issues (19 percent), while relationship difficulties, substance abuse and missed appointments with mental health professionals added to their woes during the ongoing disaster. Younger respondents (21-44 years old) more frequently reported that they are stressed by money (40 percent) and work (33 percent). And 22 percent of younger respondents likely suffer from serious mental illness.
“There’s no doubt that the oil spill has visited psychological torment among Gulf Coast communities,” said Dr. Bisordi. “Life has changed completely for many. Fishing, for instance, is a way of life for a lot of residents, a backbone of our coastal economy. But a fishing ban in much of the Gulf has disrupted livelihoods as people fear the oil will contaminate fish, shrimp and oysters.”
Nearly two of every five surveyed (37 percent) said they were “sad” or “depressed” at least a little of the time during the past 30 days. “You can scrub the sand, and you can skim the sea,” said Dr. Bisordi, “But psychological pain sinks much deeper. It will stay embedded in people, unless we give them relief.”
A majority of Americans still aren’t convinced it is safe to eat seafood from parts of the Gulf or swim in its waters, a new AP poll shows. Politically, President Barack Obama’s rating on handling the nation’s worst oil spill has nudged up to about 50 percent, the poll indicated. Fewer people now think the spill is a major national issue, and more support increased drilling in U.S. coastal waters than oppose it. …
Approval for Obama’s handling of the mess has risen from 45 percent in June, while BP’s marks have more than doubled from 15 percent to a still lackluster 33 percent. Some 66 percent of those surveyed continue to disapprove of BP’s performance, down from a whopping 83 percent in June.
More than half, 54 percent, said they weren’t confident that it is safe yet to eat seafood from the spill areas, and 55 percent said they weren’t confident that the beaches in the affected areas were safe for swimming. Still, just 60 percent of those surveyed called the spill an important issue now, down from 87 percent in June. Only 21 percent said it would affect them and their families a great deal or a lot in the next year, down from 40 percent in June. …
Between June and the week that the Associated Press-GfK poll was conducted, Aug. 11-16, BP sealed the well, its gaffe-prone chief Tony Hayward lost his job and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said most of the oil had dissolved, dispersed or been removed. Those developments probably contributed to the improved public attitude, though the NOAA findings have been challenged by some ocean researchers as far too optimistic.
Whatever the case, it is clear is that the spilling of over 100 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf no longer looms as a commanding political issue for voters heading toward midterm elections in November. Voters are far more concerned about the economy, jobs and bulging federal deficits. The poll showed that 48 percent favor increasing drilling for oil and gas in coastal waters, up from 45 percent in June. Some 36 percent said they opposed increased drilling, down from 41 percent. The rest didn’t have an opinion. …
For weeks, the spill in the Gulf of Mexico riveted the public’s attention as oil and gas spewed relentlessly from the ocean floor, fouling marshes and beaches and leading to the shutdown of fisheries. Obama, who just prior to the spill had called for an increase in offshore drilling, struggled to demonstrate leadership and fend off GOP attacks suggesting the crisis was his equivalent of Hurricane Katrina.
“With more than half of the American people still worried about swimming in the Gulf or eating its seafood, we must be vigilant about monitoring the spill and its continued effects,” said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass. Markey heads a House panel on energy and the environment that is holding a hearing Thursday on seafood safety and where the oil went.
A quarter of small businesses nationally say the Gulf oil spill will impact their business, according to a new survey. Capital One’s Small Business Barometer, as the quarterly poll is called, was conducted in July among some 2,000 businesses with less than $10 million in annual revenue. Though just 11 percent of small firms say business has dipped since the spill, business owners think the disaster will cast a long shadow. Besides the 25 percent who say it will have a “moderate to significant impact” on their business, another 17 percent say it’s too early to say. Eight percent say business has actually improved since the spill.
The survey also suggests business is stabilizing for many small firms and even picking up, though most owners are less optimistic than they were three months ago. Barely a third (32 percent) said economic conditions for their business were improving, compared to 39 percent in the first quarter. Just over 40 percent said conditions had stabilized, and nearly a quarter (23 percent) said conditions had gotten worse.
“Survey results for the second quarter of this year suggest that financial performance has stabilized or even started to improve for most small businesses surveyed in the U.S., continuing a trend we first observed in the first quarter,” said Robert M. Kottler, Capital One’s executive vice president of small business banking, in a statement. “However, compared to results from the first quarter, small businesses are slightly less optimistic about economic conditions and an increased number of small businesses plan to hold off on capital investment and job growth plans for the next six months.”
Nearly 1-in-4 Real Estate Professionals Polled Report a Negative Effect on Real Estate Markets; Number of Home Sales Drops Dramatically Year-Over-Year, Even in Markets With No Physical Damage
Clear Capital is gathering and analyzing data along the Gulf Coast and nearby regions to equip its clients in the mortgage industry with the relevant information they need to make decisions surrounding mortgage servicing, default management and loan origination. Report highlights include:
- One-quarter of respondents reported a negative impact on their market(s) due to the oil spill.
- More than 50 percent of those reporting a negative impact also reported a decrease in housing values by 5-15 percent.
- The number of sales has dropped dramatically year-over-year in many markets, even those that have not experienced a decrease in price or physical oil damage.
Much of the impact reported is social stigma due to a high degree of uncertainty. The nature of the stigma can change quickly, making timely monitoring of market conditions critical.
“The results of our survey reflect the overall uncertainty of where and by how much the oil spill is affecting individual local markets,” said Dr. Alex Villacorta, Senior Statistician, Clear Capital. “While social stigma appears to be the largest factor influencing the slowdown in home buying activity, it is clear the effects of the spill are being felt well inland from the coast.” “Many of these local markets in the Gulf have already experienced significant price declines over the last few years as well as a recent drop off in sales volume after the tax credit expiration. Additional downward pressure in the form of stigma and loss of employment will only serve to further dampen home price recovery,” added Villacorta.
The southern coastal area of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle reported the greatest concentration of physically affected areas. All of these areas estimated at least a 5-15 percent decrease in property values. Many respondents reported sales coming to a halt and inventory levels on the rise. In Mobile, Ala. the number of home sales fell 25 percent in June from one year ago. Other areas along the coast of Alabama and along the Florida panhandle also reported decreased sales and property values as a result of the spill. Further east, as far as Panama City, Fla., inventories are on the rise as result of tar balls washing ashore. Similar to Mobile, Panama City has seen a 32.5 percent decline in sale volume in June compared to one year ago, reflecting the hesitation buyers have in locking themselves into a potentially affected area.
More than just physical damage, social stigma — defined as the belief that an area has been negatively affected because of its proximity to the Gulf — is having a dramatic impact on housing markets. These impacts are capable of reaching inland or beyond the physical presence of oil. For example, when polled, real estate agents in St. Petersburg, Fla. said the water and beaches are clean. St. Petersburg is hundreds of miles from any oil and is not likely to experience any physical damage. Yet, area real estate professionals report that strong social stigma is having a negative impact on home sales.
Leading up to the spill, homes sales by volume were very positive in St. Petersburg. March and April recorded strong increases rising 18.3 and 16.8 percent from the previous year, respectively. May also managed positive growth, but at 4 percent a downward trend was evident. By the end of June, the downward trend was sharply negative recording an 8.8 percent year-over-year reduction in sales. Further south, in Naples, Fla., one real estate office that usually receives five out-of-state customer inquiries per week, has received only one call every-other-week since the spill occurred.
Markets inland from the coast, but whose industries rely heavily on the Gulf, are also reporting a slowdown in real estate activity. Areas surrounding New Orleans, La. and Houston, Texas attribute negative pressure on housing markets to employment, rather than stigma. …
Given that the data reveals a huge impact in housing markets due to real or perceived influences, the changing nature of public sentiment regarding the spill will undoubtedly drive market changes. If the public gains confidence in the clean up and capping efforts, and if drilling moratoriums are lifted, the renewed confidence could lead to a surge in home buying activity. However, the opposite is true as well; if the spill and Gulf related employment worsen, the markets will continue to fall. In order to stay on top of the highly volatile situation in the Gulf States housing markets, Clear Capital is watching the sales and listing trends closely and will continue to survey its local real estate experts to gauge both perception and market changes. Clear Capital uses this data to help lenders, loans servicers and others in the housing finance markets make more informed decisions on the homes affected by this unfortunate disaster.
For the survey, Clear Capital tapped its network of real estate brokers, agents and appraisers to identify the specific markets being impacted or threatened by the spill. The respondents were selected based on the markets they work and live in. The survey results by ZIP code are then coupled with Clear Capital’s Home Data Index (HDI) to provide a more detailed and accurate indication of current market conditions.
The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) recently released findings from an online survey of member boat, engine and accessory manufacturers on the effects of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on the recreational marine industry. NMMA surveyed 178 member chief executives in late June through July.
“Results from this member survey offer a timely and realistic picture of how the oil spill has had, and likely will continue to have, a negative impact on recreational marine manufacturers,” NMMA President Thom Dammrich said in a release. “The effects of this spill, both real and anticipated, are being felt by more than half of the manufacturing businesses in our industry.”
Survey findings include:
- Three out of five recreational marine manufacturers have been affected by the oil spill.
- Nearly four out of five surveyed companies anticipate some effect from the spill on their business throughout the remainder of the year.
- 76 percent of surveyed companies had forecasted sales growth in 2010 prior to the spill.
- 70 percent of surveyed companies have downwardly revised their 2010 sales projection as a direct result of the spill.
- 64 percent of surveyed companies downwardly revised their projections by 5-20 percent.
- 68 percent of surveyed companies were told that a cancellation was directly due to the spill.
“An estimated 11 percent of total U.S. new marine products are sold within the areas of the Gulf Coast affected by the oil spill,” Dammrich said in the release. “Findings from our survey point to a widespread effect on marine manufacturers both in and beyond the Gulf Coast. While not an insurmountable setback as our industry awaits recovery from the economic recession, the oil spill’s long-term impact on marine businesses in the Gulf-and nationally-is yet to be determined.”