Environmental Heat Exposure and Heat-Related Symptoms in United States Coast Guard Deepwater Horizon Disaster Responders

Disaster Med Public Health Prep. 2019 Jun;13(3):561-569. doi: 10.1017/dmp.2018.120. Epub 2018 Nov 6.


Objectives: The response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill was impacted by heat. We evaluated the association between environmental heat exposure and self-reported heat-related symptoms in US Coast Guard Deepwater Horizon disaster responders.

Methods: Utilizing climate data and postdeployment survey responses from 3648 responders, we assigned heat exposure categories based on both wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) and heat index (HI) measurements (median, mean, maximum). We calculated prevalence ratios (PRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) via adjusted Poisson regression models with robust error variance to estimate associations with reported heat-related symptoms. We also evaluated the association between use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and heat-related symptoms.

Results: Those in the highest WBGT median-based heat exposure category had increased prevalence of heat-related symptoms compared to those in the lowest category (PR=2.22 [95% CI: 1.61, 3.06]), and there was a significant exposure-response trend (P<.001). Results were similar for exposure categories based on WBGT and HI metrics. Analyses stratified by use of PPE found significantly stronger associations between environmental heat exposure and heat-related symptoms in those who did not use PPE (PR=2.23 [95% CI: 1.10, 4.51]) than in those who did (PR=1.64 [95% CI: 1.14, 2.36]).

Conclusions: US Coast Guard Deepwater Horizon disaster responders who experienced higher levels of environmental heat had higher prevalences of heat-related symptoms. These symptoms may impact health, safety, and mission effectiveness. As global climate change increases the frequency of disasters and weather extremes, actions must be taken to prevent heat-related health impacts among disaster responders. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2019;13:561-569).

Keywords: Deepwater Horizon; disaster response; heat exposure; heat illness; oil spill response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Emergency Responders / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Gulf of Mexico
  • Hot Temperature / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Petroleum Pollution / statistics & numerical data
  • Poisson Distribution
  • Syndrome