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For Immediate Release: October 26, 2009

Health Problems Heat Up: Climate Change and the Public's Health

(Washington, DC) - Trust for America's Health (TFAH) released a new report today that finds only five states have published a strategic climate change plan that includes a public health response.  This includes planning for health challenges and emergencies expected to develop from natural disasters, pollution, and infectious diseases as temperatures and sea levels rise. 

The Health Problems Heat Up: Climate Change and the Public's Health report examines U.S. planning for changing health threats posed by climate change, such as heat-related sickness, respiratory infections, natural disasters, changes to the food supply, and infectious diseases carried by insects.

"The changing environment has serious ramifications for our health," said Jeff Levi, PhD, Executive Director of TFAH.  "In the near future, more extreme weather events, rising temperatures, and worsening air quality mean we'll see an upswing in climate-related illnesses and injuries.  As countries around the world work to address climate change, federal, state, and local governments around the United States need to ramp up activities to protect people from the health harms it poses."

"States are already overwhelmed by existing public health responsibilities, so we face a serious challenge as we see these new climate change related problems on the horizon.  States and communities will need more resources to effectively plan and prepare for them," Levi continued.

The five states with public health response plans included in their larger climate change plans are California, Maryland, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Washington.  Twenty-eight states have published strategic climate change plans that do not include a public health response, and seventeen states and the District of Columbia have not published a strategic climate change plan.

Other key findings from the report include that:

  • Only 12 states have established climate change commissions that include a representative from the state's public health department;
  • Twenty-two states and New York City have received grants from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for Environmental Health Tracking, to track connections between health problems and the environment;
  • Thirty-three states have received CDC funds for state asthma control programs; and
  • Every state except Alaska has received funds to track diseases spread through mosquitoes and other insects.

According to Health Problems Heat Up, communities across the United States are at-risk for negative health effects associated with climate change.  Urban communities face natural disasters, such as floods and heat waves.  Rural communities may be threatened by food insecurity due to shifts in crop growing conditions, reduced water resources, heat, and storm damage.  Coastal and low-lying areas could see an increase in floods, hurricanes, and tropical storms.  Mountain regions are at risk of increasing heat and vector-borne diseases due to melting of mountain glaciers and changes in snow melt.  And communities around the country could experience new insect-based infectious diseases that used to only be affiliated with high temperature regions.

"The health threats from climate change are very real," said Phyllis Cuttino, Director of the Pew Environment Group's U.S. Global Warming Campaign.  "That is one more reason the U.S. Congress should enact legislation to address global warming.  Passing climate legislation that includes provisions to help states prepare for and respond to the projected health impacts of climate change is a measure in helping to protect the long term health of the American people. The sooner we act on global warming the healthier we'll all be."

The report contains a series of policy recommendations, including:

  • Congress should provide funding for state and local health departments to conduct needs assessments and strategic planning for public health considerations of climate change;
  • The White House and the federal interagency working group on climate change should take into account the potential health implications of policies and programs under consideration;
  • Congress should increase support for tracking of environmental effects on health and research into health effects of climate change;
  • CDC should set national guidelines and measures for core public health functions related to climate change, and in exchange for federal funding for climate change planning and response, CDC should require states and localities to report the findings to both the public and the federal government;
  • All state and local health departments should include public health considerations as part of climate change plans, including conducting needs assessments, developing strategic plans, and creating public education campaigns; and
  • Special efforts must be made to address the impact of climate change on at-risk and vulnerable communities.

The U.S. Senate is in the process of developing comprehensive climate change legislation.  The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a climate change bill that includes language to direct the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to create a national strategic action plan to assist health professionals to prepare for and respond to the impact of climate change on public health in the United States and globally.  The House bill also includes a Climate Change Health Protection and Promotion Fund to provide the funds needed to develop and carry out the strategic plan.

The full Health Problems Heat Up report, including state-specific information, is available on TFAH's web site www.healthyamericans.org.  The report was supported by The Pew Environment Group, which is the conservation arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

 

Contact

Elle Hogan
202-223-9870 x21
ehogan@tfah.org