Climate Postcards: Climate Change Makes Me Sick!
Climate Postcards: Extreme Weather
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Below, you will find detailed information, resources, and opportunities to take climate-protective action.
Climate and Extreme Weather
Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events like storms and hurricanes, resulting in more frequent flooding, water contamination and power outages. This can lead to severe and widespread harm to health.
- Climate change will increase both the intensity and duration of hurricanes.
- In 2005, Hurricane Katrina claimed the lives of an estimated 1,300 deaths due to drowning or flood related physical trauma. People also suffered from:
- Gastrointestinal illness from floodwater or contaminated drinking water.
- Skin irritations and infections in the ear, nose, eye, and throat.
- Limited medical care for cuts, puncture wounds, hypothermia, and animal bites.
River and Coastal Flooding
- River flooding can contaminate drinking water and recreational waters. River flooding can carry chemicals, gasoline, coal ash, sewage and more into residential areas and onto farmland.
- Floods can inundate mining operations and gas and oil wells. Where fracking is taking place, floodwaters can carry out deadly fracking chemicals including potential carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.
- As climate change raises sea levels, the coastal population is increasingly vulnerable to coastal storms and surges, which can cause flooding, displacement, deaths, and damage to infrastructure.
- Flash flooding from extreme rainfall affects urban watersheds and rural areas. Flash floods can result in severe personal injury and death.
- In the U.S., between 2006-2012, flash flooding was associated with more deaths and injuries in rural areas compared to urban areas.
- Low-income communities may have greater risk of health impacts as a result of poorly maintained infrastructure, high-density housing, or social isolation.
- Heavy downpours and flooding can overwhelm an area’s stormwater infrastructure and wastewater treatment system. This increases the risk of exposure to disease-causing bacteria, parasites, or unhealthy pollutants from agricultural waste, chemicals, and raw sewage.
- Exposure to contaminated water can cause gastrointestinal illnesses.
- The Giardia parasite, found on surfaces, soil, or water contaminated with feces, causes the diarrheal illness giardiasis.
- The very contagious norovirus can be contracted from an infected person, contaminated food or water. Effects are stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea.
Infrastructure Damage and Power Outages
- Extreme weather events can destroy roads or bridges, limiting travel and access to health care, communication, safe food and transportation.
- Power supplies are needed to maintain drinking water. If an extreme weather event limits power supply, water availability may suffer. This is particularly dangerous for states already facing a drought, e.g., California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.
- Lack of refrigeration from a power outage may lead to food and medicine spoilage and increase cases of foodborne diarrheal illnesses.
- Hospitals that don’t have adequate backup power generation will suffer greatly, as patients may not have access to vital machinery, including life-saving devices. When NYU Langone Medical Center in New York lost power during Hurricane Sandy, it had to evacuate 260 patients down unlit stairwells by hand. Those patients included four newborns on respirators who were carried down while nurses manually delivered air into the babies’ lungs.
Communities Most Affected
- The elderly, young, homeless or institutionalized, and those with limited English proficiency and medical or chemical dependence have lower adaptive capacity and thus are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events.
- Some communities are vulnerable due to geographic location.
Estimated Deaths from Extreme Events in the U.S., 2004-2013
This figure from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (2010) estimates the 10-year fatalities from extreme events from 2004-2013, indicating the human costs of extreme weather events over this time period. NOAA, 2010: Weather Fatalities. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association
How can I help fight climate change?
- Use our postcards to query your federal, state or local government representatives: What are they doing to protect your community from the dangers to health posed by climate change?
- Climate change is accelerated by burning fossil fuels. In order to slow climate change and protect air quality, we must replace fossil fuels with renewable energy and energy efficiency
- Join PSR’s Activist List
- Spread the knowledge by sharing our postcards!
- U.S. Global Change Research Program (2016) The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment
This government study documents “what we know about the impacts of climate change on public health, and the confidence with which we know it.” It examines a broad range of health impacts as they affect the health of the American people, not just in the future but right now.
- American Public Health Association: Warmer Water and Flooding Increase the Risk of Illness and Injury
- PSR: Climate and Health: Storms and Sea Level (Fact Sheet)
- PSR: Heat’s Deadly Effects (Fact Sheet)