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EPA: Global Warming a Health Risk

Report by Environmental Protection Agency Predicts Potentially Deadly Health Hazards From Global Warming
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 18, 2008 -- Global warming is likely going to hurt U.S. health, especially in the North and Midwest, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA has released a new report on the health effects of climate change. The report predicts the following health risks from a warming climate:

  • More heat stroke
  • More cases of gastrointestinal illness because extreme precipitation may put water and food supplies at risk for bad "bugs" such as salmonella.
  • More drowning because of storm surges
  • Injuries from flying debris in hurricanes
  • Possible increase in heart disease because of worsening ozone
  • Possible worsening of asthma, COPD, and other respiratory illnesses because of poor air quality from ozone and increase in wildfires

The report predicts that the North and Midwest will be especially hard hit because those regions aren't as used to the heat as the South. For instance, air conditioning is more common in the South than in the North and Midwest.

Very young children, the elderly, people with weak immune systems, and people living in poverty will likely suffer more than others from global warming's health risks, the report notes.

Will death rates rise? The report says that's not clear, because it's not known if warmer winters will affect death rates.

The weather isn't the only factor at work. America's population is aging, and the elderly are more vulnerable to heat. Also, booming populations in the mountains may put more pressure on the environment. That's also true in coastal areas, where more people could be affected by hurricanes and storm surges, the report notes.

The report includes these suggestions to adapt to the risks:

  • Install cooling systems in residential and commercial buildings.
  • Develop early watch and warning systems for extreme heat.
  • Improve infrastructure to keep water clean.
  • Issue "boil water" advisories if water is at risk.
  • Beef up warnings and responses for hurricanes and storm surges.
  • Issue public warnings on bad air quality days.
  • Encourage people to take public transit, walk, and bicycle to cut vehicle emissions.

The U.S. Climate Change Science Program commissioned the report.

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