Experts: Global Warming Affects Health
Health Officials Tell Senate Committee of Health Risks From Climate Change
WebMD News Archive
Oct. 23, 2007 -- Poor air quality, scarce water, even a more hospitable
environment for disease-carrying mosquitoes. All of these are potential impacts
of global warming on human health, federal and state health officials told a
Senate panel Tuesday.
Public health officials warn that environmental changes are almost
guaranteed to have an impact on people's health. The problem is, there are far
more "unknowns" than "knowns," they said.
"I don't think in some of these areas it's a question of 'if.' It's a
question of who, what, where, when, how -- and how bad it will be," CDC
Director Julie Gerberding, MD, told the Senate Environment and Public Works
"What you're telling us is we'd better get ready for this and we'd
better get ready for this now," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who
chairs the environment committee.
CDC officials warn that potential effects of global warming range from an
increase in catastrophic weather events like hurricanes and heat waves, to
lower water and food quality.
Boxer highlighted the case of a 14-year-old boy who died in September from a
disease-causing amoeba after swimming in an Arizona lake. Following the death,
CDC officials issued a warning for swimmers to avoid excessively warm or
stagnant water, where the amoeba thrives.
"Right now it is a rare disease, but it is exactly the kind of thing
we're here to talk about," Gerberding said.
Lungs and Air Quality
Other potential health problems are far less rare. Michael McCally, MD,
executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, warned that much of
the country already lives at increased risk of asthma and other respiratory
problems due to ozone-related air pollution.
"Global warming undermines efforts to improve air quality as rising
temperatures accelerate ozone formation in the summer months," he said.
Tennessee health commissioner Susan R. Cooper told lawmakers that heat waves
and forest fires are beginning to stretch health departments nationwide.
"Our systems are being taxed by these events as they are appearing with
increased frequency and greater severity," said Cooper, who represents the
Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
A Question of Resources
Still, global warming remains stubbornly unpredictable. While most
researchers agree that human activity is warming the planet, no one knows
exactly by how much. It's even harder to predict how humans will adapt, or fail
to adapt, to changing conditions.
Several of the panel's Republicans warned that fear of global warming could
divert precious resources away from effective health programs.
Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., said that aggressive efforts to curb carbon emissions
leading to global warming will drive up energy costs for low-income Americans,
which could lead to less money for heath care costs.
"What are the long-term effects of going without heart medication, blood
pressure medication, or pain medication?" Bond said.