Estimates of Occupational Inhalation Exposures to Six Oil-Related Compounds on the Four Rig Vessels Responding to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Tran B. Huynh, Caroline P. Groth, Gurumurthy Ramachandran, Sudipto Banerjee, Mark Stenzel, Harrison Quick, Aaron Blair, Lawrence S. Engel, Richard K. Kwok, Dale P. Sandler, Patricia A. Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill involved thousands of workers and volunteers to mitigate the oil release and clean-up after the spill. Health concerns for these participants led to the initiation of a prospective epidemiological study (GuLF STUDY) to investigate potential adverse health outcomes associated with the oil spill response and clean-up (OSRC). Characterizing the chemical exposures of the OSRC workers was an essential component of the study. Workers on the four oil rig vessels mitigating the spill and located within a 1852 m (1 nautical mile) radius of the damaged wellhead [the Discoverer Enterprise (Enterprise), the Development Driller II (DDII), the Development Driller III (DDIII), and the HelixQ4000] had some of the greatest potential for chemical exposures. Objectives: The aim of this paper is to characterize potential personal chemical exposures via the inhalation route for workers on those four rig vessels. Specifically, we presented our methodology and descriptive statistics of exposure estimates for total hydrocarbons (THCs), benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, and n-hexane (BTEX-H) for various job groups to develop exposure groups for the GuLF STUDY cohort. Methods: Using descriptive information associated with the measurements taken on various jobs on these rig vessels and with job titles from study participant responses to the study questionnaire, job groups [unique job/rig/time period (TP) combinations] were developed to describe groups of workers with the same or closely related job titles. A total of 500 job groups were considered for estimation using the available 8139 personal measurements. We used a univariate Bayesian model to analyze the THC measurements and a bivariate Bayesian regression framework to jointly model the measurements of THC and each of the BTEX-H chemicals separately, both models taking into account the many measurements that were below the analytic limit of detection. Results: Highest THC exposures occurred in TP1a and TP1b, which was before the well was mechanically capped. The posterior medians of the arithmetic mean (AM) ranged from 0.11 ppm ('Inside/Other', TP1b, DDII; and 'Driller', TP3, DDII) to 14.67 ppm ('Methanol Operations', TP1b, Enterprise). There were statistical differences between the THC AMs by broad job groups, rigs, and time periods. The AMs for BTEX-H were generally about two to three orders of magnitude lower than the THC AMs, with benzene and ethylbenzene measurements being highly censored. Conclusions: Our results add new insights to the limited literature on exposures associated with oil spill responses and support the current epidemiologic investigation of potential adverse health effects of the oil spill.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)I89-I110
JournalAnnals of work exposures and health
StatePublished - Apr 1 2022


  • BTEX
  • Bayesian methods
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • benzene
  • censored data
  • ethylbenzene
  • n-hexane
  • oil spill inhalation exposure
  • toluene
  • total hydrocarbons (THCs)
  • xylene

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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