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Human Health Issues and Adaptations to Climate Change
Communities adapting to face human health issues for the future need to examine present risk factors. Managing community health for changing risk factors increased by a changing climate is vital. Emergency Measures protocols, communications, and procedures need to be in place for protection of community health.
Lessons from Walkerton water and respiratory diseases like SARS should lead to implementation of preventative measures as well as emergency procedures. Protocols to reduce the number of hospital-caused infections should be reviewed. Prevention and response measures to extreme heat and/or smog days are continuing health concerns especially when experiencing increasing temperatures due to climate change.
Increased temperatures in cities are due to both the changing climate and the albedo effect in urban heat islands. The “urban heat island effect” is the tendency of cities to retain heat by changing the landscape.
Removal of trees; replacement plantings of young trees or smaller canopy trees; more asphalt and less green space; more buildings without increased in insulation of glass or wall surfaces, roofs and vehicles with darker colors – all affect the reflectivity of the city. The darker the color, the more heat is absorbed from the sun to be released after sundown.
The urban heat island effect of cities increases the temperatures beyond those expected for rural areas. This adds to the urgency of acting now to put in place all reasonable adaptive measures and to develop plans to reduce emissions. See also Albedo in Sections 3.2.6 and 3.3.1a for activities.
Extreme Weather Events
Ice storms and floods have shown that maintenance of water storage and water quality need precautionary measures now. Heavy precipitation or thawing events demand separating runoff from sewage lines. See Peterborough flood July 2004.
Public health workers, home care workers, volunteers for programs such as Meals on Wheels and Good Neighbours must all work together and be supported as they care for the elderly in heat stress and smog days.
Degraded Air Quality
Smog Day Alert – Degraded Urban Air Quality
The orange-tinged brown smog layer in the atmosphere above this city – as other urban centres – is the result of a mixture of nitrogen oxides, small particles, and gases reacting with ground level ozone and ultraviolet light. Most of these emissions are from vehicles, industry, and fossil fuel power generation. See also Sulphate and Nitrate graphs in earlier sections and the “Tying it all Together” figure below.
Increased demand for electricity for air conditioning as a response to increased summer temperatures of climate change will add to the mix unless adaptive measures are taken – not by individuals alone but by all corporations and governments.
Ontario local environmental and economic conditions and public health infrastructure are the key factors influencing actual occurrence of disease. Water quality, air quality, disease and illness are continuing concerns – with the added pressure of increased temperatures due to climate change.
The number of hospital admissions of those suffering asthma and other respiratory illnesses rises under conditions of poor air quality.
1. Research and graph the relationship between hospital admissions and respiratory conditions in your local hospital and in the province of Ontario over the last 10 years.
Some new to Ontario diseases such as West Nile virus have been faced. Announcements were delivered many different ways from TV spots to mass mailings, to enclosures with household mailings – in several languages. All information recommended avoidance of dawn and dusk hours outside and proper applications of insect repellent.
Public awareness of mosquito breeding grounds and encouragement to remove standing water sources such as birdbaths and old tires was undertaken. Some communities undertook a pellet delivery system to runoff basins – timed for effectiveness both in kill rates and dollars spent. Communities will have to evaluate whether or not each program is cost effective.
Reducing risk factors for those weakened immune systems of the young, elderly and those under the added stress of suppressed immune systems while experiencing higher daily temperatures would help to reduce total health care costs. Heat Stress Respiratory admissions graphs indicate there is a relationship. Check also for another relationship of these statistics – between the distance from hospital and number of deaths.
Risk factors for those with weaker immune systems such as the young, elderly and patients with suppressed immune systems under the added stress of higher daily temperatures need to be addressed.
Measures such as mandatory inoculation of preschoolers and youth for childhood diseases reduce chances of outbreaks. Inoculation of the elderly against influenza and pneumonia is needed where appropriate. Ontario has recently undertaken advertising campaigns and made vaccines available to encourage individuals to protect themselves.
Protective vaccines and treatments for the coming outbreaks need to be under development, for example, anti-malaria research.
The recommendations below are from the scientists and specialists in these areas as part of the IJC report of 2003.
Choose one of the above recommendations and carry out research for actions that have been taken
a) in your municipality
b) in Ontario.
Tying it All Together!
1. Reread this section on Human Health and Adaptations for Climate Change.
2. List preventative actions that can be taken by individuals, by corporations by government to reduce the risks to humans seen in this diagram.