Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Why Researchers Are Sounding the Alarm About Climate Change’s Health Impacts

Pedestrian in smog covered street (Photo Credit: AP/Mukhtar Khan) Click to Enlarge.
Climate change and air pollution make a dangerous pair.

That’s one of the findings of a report published Monday from the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, a group that represents a collaboration between European and Chinese climate scientists and geographers, social and environmental scientists, biodiversity experts, energy policy and health experts, and other professionals.  The report, which laid out the health risks of climate change and makes policy recommendations, called air pollution among the most serious of the indirect health effects of global warming.

Here’s why that is:  gases that result from the burning of fossil fuels pollute the air, and cause global warming.  At the same time, rising temperatures worsen air pollution by increasing ground level ozone, a chemical reaction between sunlight and emissions and the main component of smog.

We are seeing the impacts of climate on lung health, and that is a huge concern

The resulting dirty air — a combination of ozone and fine particles — is very bad for humans, especially children whose lungs are still developing, as well as for the elderly and people with asthma, heart disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).  Experts even believe it hurts healthy people as well.

“Exposure to air pollution has been directly linked to worsening respiratory disease, and not just in asthmatics,” said Jeffrey Demain, director of the Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Center of Alaska.  “Pollution has a direct impact, there is no question.  We’re seeing a rise in childhood asthma and adult onset asthma too, and increases in COPD, which is becoming a tremendous problem in this country.  People are developing it who never smoked, or never had family members who smoked.”
“We are seeing the impacts of climate on lung health, and that is a huge concern,” said Janice E. Nolen, assistant vice president for national policy at the American Lung Association.  “We are very worried about the threat it poses today, and will pose in the future.”

Climate-related flooding also creates mold, another serious trigger that can impair breathing. And climate-induced drought increases the risk of wildfires, which produce a staggering amount of fine air particles from smoke and ash that damage human lungs.

“A changing climate will increase heat waves and air pollution such as from forest fires and tropospheric ozone,” said Michelle Bell, professor of environmental health at the Yale University school of forestry and environmental studies.  “These are not new problems but an exacerbation of existing public health challenges.  For instance, over 100 million people in the United States live in areas exceeding EPA’s health-based standards for ozone today.”
To be sure, air quality has improved dramatically in many American cities due to the Clean Air Act of 1970.  Nevertheless, the effects of climate are impairing continued progress, according to Nolen.

“Climate change is creating conditions making it harder for us to clean up the air and reduce pollution,” she said.

Why Researchers Are Sounding the Alarm About Climate Change’s Health Impacts

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