Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS -- If you helped with the BP oil spill clean-up efforts or know someone who did, scientists want to hear from you.
A study is underway looking at the long-term health effects of last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill on clean-up workers.
"I've been fishing out there all my life, the Gulf has been a part of my living, helped me to take care of my family," said Joseph Smith who friends call "Captain Joe".
Lifelong fisherman and Chauvin native Joseph Smith says he felt a duty to give back after the BP oil spill.
"I was on the clean-up team, helped clean up there. Worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week," said Captain Joe, who joined an army of workers and volunteers, helping to clean up millions of gallons of oil left floating in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
"We were scooping up tar balls and putting them into plastic bags," said Captain Joe.
Sixteen months later, the Terrebonne Parish resident who spent nearly four months on the frontlines says he doesn't feel quite right.
"I cough a lot at night. I took cough medicine, which didn't seem to do any good. My lungs seem to be slowly deteriorating," said Captain Joe, who joined nearly two dozen people at a meeting in Chauvin on Wednesday night, concerned about their health.
The informational meeting explained how a federal research study is underway looking at the oil spill's potential health impact on workers who cleaned up after the spill.
"Individual people are having respiratory problems, individual people are having skin problems, and our task is to determine how that relates to the BP oil spill," said Dr. Dale Sandler with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences about what researchers are hearing from study participants.
Scientists hope to interview 50,000 clean-up workers from Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama. So far, they've enrolled 5,000 people in this study and have a total of 150,000 names in their database. Researchers say phone interviews will be followed by house calls. But the challenge is tracking people down.
"They trade off cell phones or they've moved. It's a young population. Many of whom are moving around, lost jobs, moving in with their families. So it's difficult to get a hold of them," said Sandler of the study's major challenge.
"We were driving the boom with the boat to pick up the oil," said Ernest Verdin who showed up to the meeting with his wife Virginia to learn more about the study. The couple say their 22-year-old son's health has suffered since he helped with the BP oil clean up.
"He called me the other day when he was out working and said, 'I'm not feeling good again.' It catches him by surprise," said Virginia Verdin said.
For those with livelihoods tied to the Gulf, many say the BP oil spill changed everything.
"It ain't like it use to be, fish don't bite like they use to, not in the same place like they use to," said Captain Joe.
To find out more about the Gulf Study, click here.