Research Papers: human health

Impact of upstream oil extraction and environmental public health: A review of the evidence

By Jill E. Johnston, Esther Lim, Hannah Roh

Science of the Total Environment


Upstream oil extraction, which includes exploration and operation to bring crude oil to the surface, frequently occurs near human populations. There are approximately 40,000 oil fields globally and 6 million people that live or work nearby. Oil extraction can impact local soil, water, and air, which in turn can influence community health. As oil resources are increasingly being extracted near human populations, we highlight the current scope of scientific knowledge regarding potential community health impacts with the aim to help identify scientific gaps and inform policy discussions surrounding oil drilling operations. In this review, we assess the wide range of both direct and indirect impacts that oil drilling operations can have on human health, with specific emphasis on understanding the body of scientific literature to assess potential environmental and health risks to residents living near active onshore oil extraction sites. From an initial literature search capturing 2236 studies, we identified 22 human studies, including 5 occupational studies, 5 animal studies, 6 experimental studies and 31 oil drilling-related exposure studies relevant to the scope of this review. The current evidence suggests potential health impacts due to exposure to upstream oil extraction, such as cancer, liver damage, immunodeficiency, and neurological symptoms. Adverse impacts to soil, air, and water quality in oil drilling regions were also identified. Improved characterization of exposures by community health studies and further study of the chemical mixtures associated with oil extraction will be critical to determining the full range of health risks to communities living near oil extraction.

A conceptual model to assess stress-associated health effects of multiple ecosystem services degraded by disaster events in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere

By Paul A. Sandifer, Landon C. Knapp, Tracy K. Collier, Amanda L. Jones, Robert-Paul Juster, Christopher R. Kelble, Richard K. Kwok, John V. Miglarese, Lawrence A. Palinkas, Dwayne E. Porter, Geoffrey I. Scott, Lisa M. Smith, William C. Sullivan, and Ariana E. Sutton-Grier



Few conceptual frameworks attempt to connect disaster-associated environmental injuries to impacts on ecosystem services (the benefits humans derive from nature) and thence to both psychological and physiological human health effects. To our knowledge, this study is one of the first, if not the first, to develop a detailed conceptual model of how degraded ecosystem services affect cumulative stress impacts on the health of individual humans and communities. Our comprehensive Disaster-Pressure State-Ecosystem Services-Response-Health model demonstrates that oil spills, hurricanes, and other disasters can change key ecosystem components resulting in reductions in individual and multiple ecosystem services that support people’s livelihoods, health, and way of life. Further, the model elucidates how damage to ecosystem services produces acute, chronic, and cumulative stress in humans which increases risk of adverse psychological and physiological health outcomes. While developed and initially applied within the context of the Gulf of Mexico, it should work equally well in other geographies and for many disasters that cause impairment of ecosystem services. Use of this new tool will improve planning for responses to future disasters and help society more fully account for the costs and benefits of potential management responses. The model also can be used to help direct investments in improving response capabilities of the public health community, biomedical researchers, and environmental scientists. Finally, the model illustrates why the broad range of potential human health effects of disasters should receive equal attention to that accorded environmental damages in assessing restoration and recovery costs and time frames.

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