The first major survey of families living within 10 miles of the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast presented no surprises, but it did uncover some sobering statistics. According to the poll, conducted by Columbia University's National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP), more than one-third of parents said their children had experienced either physical symptoms or mental distress directly related to the BP oil disaster.
Researchers interviewed more than 1,200 adults for the survey, and found 21 percent of parents reported their children were spending less time playing outdoors. Nearly 27 percent of respondents said they thought they might have to move away, and the children in those families were exhibiting signs of mental health distress at a rate three times higher than their counterparts.
"There is a significant and persistent public health crisis underscored by the large number of children with medical and psychological problems related to the disaster," says Dr. Irwin Redlener, the center's director and president of the Children's Health Fund (CHF). "Over the last few days we are seeing an effort by officials who are suggesting that, as the oil is less visible on the surface [of the water], the 'crisis is over.' Clearly, this is far from the case."
The NCDP says it intends to follow more than 1,000 of the respondents to gauge their progress, and the CHF will dispatch mobile pediatric help to the affected parishes soon. Among the NCDP's other findings in the survey, says Redlener: "There are literally no pediatricians in the lower two-thirds of Plaquemines Parish." — Kevin Allman