Prolonged Respiratory Symptoms in Clean-Up Workers of the Prestige Oil Spill
American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
The wreckage of the oil tanker Prestige in November 2002 produced a heavy contamination of the coast of Galicia, Spain.
Objectives: To evaluate the prevalence of respiratory symptoms in local fishermen more than one year after having participated in clean-up work.
Methods: Questionnaires including qualitative and quantitative information about clean-up activities and respiratory symptoms were distributed among associates of 38 fishermen's cooperatives. Both postal and telephone follow-up was performed. The association between participation in clean-up work and respiratory symptoms was evaluated using multiple logistic regression analyses, adjusted for sex, age, and smoking status.
Main Results: Between January 2004 and February 2005, data were obtained from 6,780 fishermen (response rate 76%). Sixty-three percent had participated in clean-up operations. Lower respiratory tract symptoms (LRTS) were more prevalent in clean-up workers; odds ratio (OR) 1.73; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.54-1.94. This association was consistent for men and women, for different fishermen's cooperatives, for different types of respiratory symptoms, and remained after excluding those who reported anxiety or believed that the oil spill had affected their health (OR 1.57; CI 1.37-1.80). The risk of LRTS increased with the number of exposed days, exposed hours per day, and number of activities (linear trend: p<0.0001). The excess risk of LRTS decreased when more time had elapsed since last exposure; OR 2.33, 1.69 and 1.24 for <14 months, 14-20 months and >20 months, respectively.
Conclusions: Participation in clean-up work of oil spills may result in prolonged respiratory symptoms that last one to two years after exposure.