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Multi-agency report details climate change risk to American public health

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Multi-agency report details climate change risk to American public health

Anew report from anumber of U.S. executive Cabinet departments details the significant threatthat climate change poses to the public health of Americans.

TheU.S. EPA, Department of State, Department of Interior, NASA and Department ofHealth and Human Services are among the contributors to the report, which wasproduced as part of President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan. The reportbuilds on the federal government's 2014 National Climate Assessment, whichexplained how climate change is already affecting every region of the country and major sectorsof the U.S. economy, including the energy industry.

The report— "The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States"— focuses more specifically on health impacts, finding that climate changefurther complicates some existing health threats and creates new public healthchallenges. While all Americans are at risk, the report said, some populations,including those of low income, communities of color, immigrant groups, indigenouspeople, children and pregnant women, are disproportionately impacted.

Asclimate change worsens, severe, health-impacting weather conditions such asrising temperatures, heavy rains and droughts will increase in areas that havepreviously experienced such conditions, the report said. But in the future,other areas will also see new impacts of climate change, including toxic algaeblooms and outbreaks of waterborne diseases that never cropped up there beforewhen water temperatures were cooler.

"Climatechange can therefore affect human health in two main ways: first, by changingthe severity or frequency of health problems that are already affected byclimate or weather factors; and second, by creating unprecedented orunanticipated health problems or health threats in places where they have notprevi­ously occurred," the report said.

Thereport looked at the impact of power outages caused by severe weather. Inaddition to the loss of heating, ventilation and air conditioning functionalityand the possible associated risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, the report notedthat power infrastructure itself could be damaged. Moreover, "energy infrastructurethat relies on environmental inputs, such as water for cooling in powergeneration or for hydroelectric dams, is also vulnerable to changes in extremeevents due to climate change," the report said.

Someother threats to human health include heat- and flood-related deaths along withLyme disease contracted from ticks that occur outside their normal season orspread into new areas. Food-borne pathogens could also spread with increases intemperature, humidity and season length resulting in cases of salmonellainfection or gastrointestinal outbreaks.

Interms of air quality, the changing climate alters the level and location ofground-level ozone and fine particulate matter in the atmosphere, and carbondioxide promotes the growth of plants that release airborne allergens, thereport said. All three pollutants are emitted from power plantsand are either already regulated by the EPA or are pending regulation.

Wildfires,which may become more common as the climate changes, also contribute to theseair quality concerns. "Climate change and air quality are both affectedby, and influence … the levels and types of pollutants emitted, how land isused, the chemistry governing how these pollutants form in the atmosphere, andweather conditions," the report said.