Persistent Risk-Related Worry as a Function of Recalled Exposure to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Prior Trauma


Large oil spills are disasters associated with psychological effects for exposed communities. The amount of worry that individuals experience after a disaster may be influenced by many factors, such as the type and extent of exposure to disaster impacts, prior trauma, and sociodemographic characteristics. This study examined the nature and predictors of worry about ongoing impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DH) oil spill reported by Gulf of Mexico coastal residents. A random sample of 2,520 adult residents of Gulf of Mexico coastal counties were administered a telephone survey in 2016, including items about persistent worry and exposure to DH impacts, prior trauma, residence at the time of the spill, and sociodemographic characteristics. Respondents varied in the amount of worry they reported about ongoing health, social, and economic impacts. Controlling for sociodemographic characteristics, higher exposure to the DH oil spill was related to higher levels of worry about ongoing impacts, with past traumatic events related specifically to worry about health impacts. Unexpectedly, those who moved into the region after the spill showed similar levels of worry to residents exposed to the spill, and higher levels than residents who did not recall being exposed to the DH oil spill. This study highlights the impact of the DH oil spill on coastal residents many years after the DH disaster. The findings underscore the need to examine multiple pathways by which individuals experience disasters and for risk researchers to close knowledge gaps about long-term impacts of oil spills within a multi-dimensional framework.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation external publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

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