Open Access Research article

Association between health information, use of protective devices and occurrence of acute health problems in the Prestige oil spill clean-up in Asturias and Cantabria (Spain): a cross-sectional study

José Miguel Carrasco1, Virginia Lope1, Beatriz Pérez-Gómez1, Nuria Aragonés1, Berta Suárez1, Gonzalo López-Abente1, Fernando Rodríguez-Artalejo2 and Marina Pollán1*

Author Affiliations

1 Environmental Epidemiology and Cancer Unit, National Centre for Epidemiology, Carlos III Institute of Health, Madrid, Spain

2 Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, School of Medicine, Autonomous University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain

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BMC Public Health 2006, 6:1  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-6-1

Published: 3 January 2006



This paper examines the association between use of protective devices, frequency of acute health problems and health-protection information received by participants engaged in the Prestige oil spill clean-up in Asturias and Cantabria, Spain.


We studied 133 seamen, 135 bird cleaners, 266 volunteers and 265 paid workers selected by random sampling, stratified by type of worker and number of working days. Information was collected by telephone interview conducted in June 2003. The association of interest was summarized, using odds ratios (OR) obtained from logistic regression.


Health-protection briefing was associated with use of protective devices and clothing. Uninformed subjects registered a significant excess risk of itchy eyes (OR:2.89; 95%CI:1.21–6.90), nausea/vomiting/dizziness (OR:2.25; 95%CI:1.17–4.32) and throat and respiratory problems (OR:2.30; 95%CI:1.15–4.61). There was a noteworthy significant excess risk of headaches (OR:3.86: 95%CI:1.74–8.54) and respiratory problems (OR:2.43; 95%CI:1.02–5.79) among uninformed paid workers. Seamen, the group most exposed to the fuel-oil, were the worst informed and registered the highest frequency of toxicological problems.


Proper health-protection briefing was associated with greater use of protective devices and lower frequency of health problems. Among seamen, however, the results indicate poorer dissemination of information and the need of specific guidelines for removing fuel-oil at sea.