Aparna Bole, MD, FAAP, September 26, 2017
As a pediatrician, I am concerned about the impacts that climate change and environmental degradation are already having on the kids and families in my care.
That’s why I joined the OEC’s board. That’s also why I recently helped to launch Ohio Clinicians for Climate Action, a statewide initiative aligned with the national Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health. My fellow clinicians and I understand that, fundamentally, environmental policies are public health policies. We are committed to calling for action, here in Ohio and beyond, to protect human health through sound environmental policies and practices.
Clinicians understand that water we drink, the air we breathe, the products we use, and the climate we live in all impact health outcomes. Those especially vulnerable to environmental health hazards include those with chronic illness, the elderly, the economically disadvantaged, and children. Children are particularly at risk because of their unique physiology and developmentally normal behaviors, critical windows of development, and reliance on adult caregivers for essential needs. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that over 80% of the health impacts of climate change are borne by children under the age of 5.
Extreme heat is the leading cause of weather related death in the United States, and can also cause cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. Climate change is already causing increased frequency of extreme heat events – small changes in average temperature can have dire health impacts, according to studies by the Center for Disease Control.
Climate change exacerbates poor air quality, for example by increasing surface ozone concentration and potentially increasing the length and intensity of the aeroallergen season. These factors can exacerbate asthma, which I treat all too often in my practice in Cleveland, where the prevalence of asthma among African American children is more than twice the national prevalence of pediatric asthma. Burning fossil fuels also directly causes fine particulate and other kinds of air pollution. Air pollution negatively affects neurocognitive development and is also a risk factor for preterm birth and low birth weight, also issues that affect children in my care.
Changing patterns of infectious disease, including the northward expansion of the range of disease carrying vectors like ticks that carry Lyme disease and mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus, are yet another example of health impacts of climate change that put our kids and communities at risk.
Finally, hotter days leave shallow water bodies, like Lake Erie’s Western basin, more prone to toxic algae that can harm small children and pets. In 2014, toxic algae left my neighboring city of Toledo without clean drinking water for 3 days!
The good news is, we have the power to act to mitigate and prevent these environmental health hazards. Unfortunately, however, even as I write this the federal government is in the process of rolling back critical environmental protections. The methane rule, which would require oil and gas companies to stop leaking methane pollution into our atmosphere, could be delayed for 2 years. The Clean Power Plan and Clean Air Act are on the chopping block. Even funding for the Great Lakes, which supply drinking water to millions of Americans, is at risk.
That’s why, now, more than ever, we need doctors, nurses, and health professionals to speak up for environmental protection. By joining the Ohio Clinicians for Climate Action, Ohio’s healthcare professionals will be informed and engaged around critical environmental issues impacting our fellow Ohioans. They will learn how to bring their critical health perspective and expertise to environmental advocacy in our state, and be connected with timely opportunities to take actions for a healthier Ohio.