A collaborative response to characterizing environmental health risks and building community resiliency after the Deep Water Horizon disaster in the northern Gulf of Mexico
The “Gulf Coast Health Alliance: Health Risks Related to the Macondo Spill” (GC-HARMS) research project seeks to characterize health impacts and community resiliency factors related to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The seafood industry is critical to the local economy of the Gulf and the infusion of oil disrupted seasonal fishing, and may have damaged the estuarial food web, while exposing consumers of local seafood to potentially harmful compounds associated with crude oil. These diverse communities – Native American (United Houma Nation, Louisiana), Vietnamese-American fisher-folk (Gulfport, Mississippi), African-American (Biloxi, Mississippi), traditional Louisiana Cajuns and racially-ethnically diverse fishermen in coastal Alabama – have been culturally, economically and, in some cases, linguistically marginalized, adversely affecting their collective resiliency in the wake of the disaster. This is complicated by the ongoing impacts of land loss, sea level rise, and a decade’s worth of unusually severe hurricane activity. This region’s cumulative burden of stress and risk thus looms heavy with a host of challenges moving forward.
GC-HARMS is a network of community and university partners focused on the health and resiliency impacts of the 2010 Macondo oil spill.
The focus of GC-HARMS evolved in response to community identified issues and concerns about the possible health, ecosystem and economic implications of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon and subsequent oil spill. The GC-HARMS project utilizes a Community-Based Participatory Research(CBPR) approach. The communities involved in the study drive the focus and are critical to the execution of the work as they actively participate in the entire process. Community organizations function as outreach, education and communication channels for their regions, organizing Fishermen’s Forums, arranging sampling expeditions with local fishing crews and designing culturally fluent outreach activities to communicate news, findings and implications of the project to members of their own communities. Community organizations communicate frequently by telephone or internet with researchers, and the entire group meets yearly to critique and improve the process.