Adverse Effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill Amid Cumulative Disasters: A Qualitative Analysis of the Experiences of Children and Families

Gabriella Y. Meltzer, Alexis A. Merdjanoff, Robyn R. Gershon, Alice Fothergill, Lori Peek, David Abramson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Limited research has examined the ramifications of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (DHOS) on children and their families. This study builds on secondary data analysis and representative survey findings from the multi-method, multi-phase Gulf Coast Population Impact (GCPI) project. Specifically, this phase of the GCPI research draws on in-depth, semi-structured interview and focus group data to illuminate the social conditions that influenced poor child health outcomes in the aftermath of the DHOS and amid other disasters. These qualitative data were collected two years after the spill with caregivers, teachers, faith- and community-based leaders in five highly impacted Gulf Coast communities. Exploratory qualitative analysis revealed that children were affected by the DHOS and other related challenges through exposure to familial stress emerging from livelihood disruptions. Such disruptions were the result of ongoing poverty, damage to the fishing industry, and exposure to cumulative and compounding environmental disasters. In cases of severe familial stress, children may have experienced toxic stress because of caregivers’ displaced distress; ambiguous loss through caregivers’ physical and/or emotional absence; and the children’s recognition of their families’ dire financial situations. Toxic stress was most often expressed through acute and chronic physiological, emotional, and behavioral health challenges. This study expands current understandings of the impact of technological disasters and cumulative environmental disasters on children and families. It underscores the importance of investing in harm prevention strategies to reduce threats to the health and wellbeing of young people living in ecologically and socioeconomically insecure environments prone to intensifying technological and climate-fueled disasters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • Children
  • Cumulative disaster exposure
  • Deepwater Horizon oil spill
  • Family stress
  • Gulf Coast

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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