Background: In May 2000, there was a breach in the crude oil pipeline belonging to a major oil company in Etiama Nembe, in Bayelsa State, Nigeria. This study is to investigate if the residents in the affected community suffered an increase in self reported symptoms that might be attributable to exposure to the spilled crude oil.
Method: A retrospective cohort study, with a comparison control group was carried out, using an interviewer--administered questionnaire and focus group discussions as the study tools. Exposure status was assigned on the basis of geographical location. The questionnaire was administered to male respondents in both the exposed and unexposed communities; while the focus group discussions were held only with adult women in the exposed community.
Results: A total of 420 questionnaires were administered and retrieved from both study groups. There were no significant differences in the age, cigarette smoking or the history of chemical allergy between the exposed and the unexposed groups; though the respondents in the exposed communities were significantly better educated (p-value < 0.005). There were significant differences in the period prevalence for diarrhea (OR = 4.6, p-value < 0.0001), sore eyes (OR = 10.93, p-value < 0.0001), itchy skin (OR = 13.48, p-value < 0.00001) and occupational injuries (OR = 5.29, p-value < 0.0005). These increases were further elaborated by the discussants in the focus group discussions.
Conclusions: Exposure to the mists and fumes generated by a crude oil spill some acute health effects, albeit mild and transient. This increase in the disease burden of the exposed communities should be recognized and given adequate attention by all the stakeholders.