Climate Change and Your Health

Climate Change Health Threats in California

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Ozone Smog and Allergenic Ragweed Occurrence   >= 1 unhealthy ozone days/yr (2002-2006)   Both ragweed and ozone present and >= 1 unhealthy ozone days/yr (2002-2006)   Ragweed present only   Neither or missing data
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Average Number, Summer Days Per Year of Extreme Heat, 2000-2009   <= 9.0   9.1 - 13.8 (More than expected)   > 13.8 (More than expected)   Insufficient data in county
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Dengue Fever Vulnerability, 1995-2005 data   Areas vulnerable to dengue fever infection   Counties reporting positive for one or both dengue mosquito vector species, as of 2005   No mosquito vectors reported as of 2005
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2000-2009 Averages, Number of Days Per Year of Extreme Low Flow by Watershed   < 15   15 - 33   > 33   Insufficient flow data
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2000-2009 Averages, Number of Days Per Year of Extreme High Flow by Watershed   < 15   15 - 23   > 23   Insufficient flow data
Floodwatch Stations Number of Days Above Flood Stage Per Year < 1 1 - 10 > 10
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Extreme Weather Events
Record Rainfall
Record temperature
Extreme drought
Record Snowfall
Wildfire
Extreme flooding
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Air Pollution

Many people are facing a double whammy of air quality threats that will worsen with climate change:

  • More than 90% of the population already lives in areas that violate state air quality standards.3
  • 9 counties have ragweed and 31 counties have unhealthy smog levels; Los Angeles, Nevada, Butte, and Placer counties suffer from both.4
  • Asthma sickens an estimated 881,500 kids and 2,294,800 adults per year.5
  • Smoke pollution from wildfires make "bad air days" worse, and the number of fires is expected to increase as much as 55% by late-century.6

Protect your family from air pollution:

  • Check news reports on the radio, TV, or online for pollen reports or daily air quality conditions. Or visit EPA's Air Now for air quality info and avoid outdoor activity on bad air days particularly for people with asthma or other respiratory diseases.
  • After spending time outdoors, wash off pollen that may have collected on your face, skin, or hair.

Find out more about the effects of air pollution

See more about California's state action plan for air pollution

Extreme Heat

  • An extreme heat wave in 2006 sent an excess 16,000 people to the emergency room.7 Nearly 150 people died from heat-related illnesses that July.8
  • By the end of the century, there could be up to 100 more days per year with temperatures above 90°F (32°C) in Los Angeles and above 95°F (35°C) in Sacramento.9
  • By mid-century, extreme temperatures could cause two to three times more heat-related deaths.10

Protect your family from extreme heat:

  • Limit exertion during heat waves and high temperature days, drink plenty of water and take cool showers or baths, and stay inside or in the shade.
  • Check on elderly or at-risk friends or neighbors regularly -- or ask someone to look in on you if you feel vulnerable to heat.

Find out more about the effects of extreme heat

See more about California's state action plan for extreme heat

Infectious Diseases

  • 35 cases of Dengue Fever were reported between 1995-2005, and 2 counties have a type of mosquito that can transmit the virus (as of 2005).11
  • 2,982 cases of West Nile virus were reported to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) between 1999-2010.12
  • 2,370 cases of Lyme disease were reported to CDC between 1990-2008.13

Protect your family from infectious diseases:

  • When planning international travel, check with the CDC's website for information on recent disease outbreaks and take appropriate precautions.
  • During mosquito season at home, apply insect repellent with 20-30 percent DEET in the mornings and early evenings.

Find out more about the effects of infectious diseases

See more about California's state action plan for infectious disease

Drought

  • About 83% of the state's counties now face higher risks of water shortages by mid-century as the result of climate change.14
  • Parts of the state are likely to see limitations on water availability as demand exceeds supply by 2050.15
  • Dry conditions fuel out-of-control wildfires across the state; the number of fires is expected to increase by 55% by late-century.16

Protect your family from droughts:

  • Visit EPA's WaterSense for tips on conserving water, such as replacing leaky pipes.
  • Agricultural water users can find conservation options with a local Cooperative Extension Service agent, or the US Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Find out more about the effects of drought

See more about California's state action plan for drought

Flooding

  • During the past century, sea levels along the coast have risen about 7 inches, and further rises and storm surge could jeopardize coastal cities' infrastructure.17
  • Combined sewer overflows are a health risk for 3 communities, including Sacramento and San Francisco.18
  • The state has been declared a disaster area 6 times since 2000, due to damage from severe storms and flooding.19

Protect your family from floods and related illnesses:

  • Familiarize yourself with your region's vulnerability to flooding and its local emergency evacuation plans.
  • Prepare your own plan -- including where your family will stay in case of flooding and what you'll do if a relative is sickened by contaminated water.

Find out more about the effects of flooding

See more about California's state action plan for flooding

Extreme Weather

California experienced in 2011:

  • Record-breaking heat in 11 counties and a total of 15 broken heat records
  • Record-breaking rainfall in 26 counties and a total of 60 broken rainfall records
  • Record-breaking snow in 6 counties and a total of 19 broken snowfall records

Protect your family from extreme weather:

Find out more about the effects of extreme weather

See more about California's state action plan for extreme weather

California's Climate Adaptation Strategy

Air Pollution:

California's strategy to prepare for climate change includes measures to identify, track, and address climate related vulnerabilities, such as reducing air pollution in "hot spots."

  • California Department of Public Health (CDPH) should provide tools for use by local health departments, other agencies, and CBOs to identify and reduce climate-related vulnerabilities; increased efforts to reduce air pollution in "toxic hot spots" would decrease vulnerability to the health effects of increased air pollution with rising temperatures.
  • Expand the Electronic Death Reporting System for the continuous monitoring of asthma.
  • CDPH should conduct detailed vulnerability assessments for all the leading climate change health outcomes.

Extreme Heat:

California's strategy to prepare for climate change includes measures to develop heat-warning systems, improve outreach systems, and identify and reduce vulnerabilities to extreme heat. The cities of Berkeley and Los Angeles have adopted a strategy that includes measures to protect and increase urban trees to help cool the city in the face of extreme heat threats.

  • California Department of Public Health (CDPH) should provide tools for use by local health departments, other agencies, and CBOs to identify and reduce climate-related vulnerabilities; identification of urban heat islands could lead to targeted efforts to increase shading and reduce heat-reflecting pavement through expansion of parks and community gardens.
  • Improve outreach to vulnerable populations, such as residents in urban heat islands.
  • Work with the CDPH Emergency Preparedness Office, CalEMA, and local health and emergency response agencies to develop heat warning systems for regions of the state that have not yet adopted them.
  • The city of Los Angeles should reduce the heat island effect by planting 1 million trees throughout the city and increasing open space.

Infectious Disease:

California's strategy to prepare for climate change includes a measure to identify vulnerabilities to the spread of infectious diseases with climate change, such as Valley Fever.

Drought:

California's strategy to prepare for climate change includes measures that focus on ensuring adequate water availability during times of drought but does not include specific public health-related preparedness steps. The city of Berkeley's strategy includes a city focused climate change vulnerability assessment that will include assessing water resources, and Los Angeles has a measure to prepare for increased drought conditions.

Flooding:

California's strategy to prepare for climate change includes a measure to improve emergency response plans to respond to increased risks of flooding due to climate change.

Extreme Weather:

California's climate preparedness strategy includes the following measures to address increased health threats from an increase in extreme weather events due to climate change:

  • Measures to address increased risk of extreme heat, flood events, droughts, and wildfires.
  • Measures to maintain and upgrade the Safe Drinking Water Information System, promote sustainable local food systems to ensure food security and quality, and to prevent water- and food- borne illnesses.
  • The city of Berkeley's climate preparedness strategy includes measures to address extreme heat.
  • The city of San Francisco's climate preparedness strategy includes plans to lessen the public health impacts of extreme heat, storms, floods, and increased risk of infectious diseases and is also concerned about contamination resulting from flooding and storm events.

Find out more

  1. Moser, Susie, Guido Franco, Sarah Pittiglio, Wendy Chou, Dan Cayan. 2009. The Future Is Now: An Update on Climate Change Science Impacts and Response Options for California. California Energy Commission, PIER Energy‐Related Environmental Research Program. CEC-500-2008-071.
  2. Union of Concerned Scientists. Our Changing Climate: Assessing the Risks to California, 2006.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Natural Resources Defense Council. Sneezing and Wheezing, 2007.
  5. American Lung Association. Estimated Prevalence and Incidence of Lung Disease, 2010.
  6. Union of Concerned Scientists. Our Changing Climate: Assessing the Risks to California, 2006.
  7. Knowlton K, Rotkin-Ellman M, King G, Margolis HG, Smith D, Solomon G, et al. 2009. The 2006 California Heat Wave: Impacts on Hospitalizations and Emergency Department Visits. Environ Health Perspect 117:61-67. doi:10.1289/ehp.11594
  8. Natural Resources Defense Council. Hotter and Drier: The West's Changed Climate, 2008.
  9. Union of Concerned Scientists. Our Changing Climate: Assessing the Risks to California, 2006.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Natural Resources Defense Council. Fever Pitch, 2009.
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. West Nile virus Statistics, Surveillance, and Control Archive.
  13. Lyme Disease Association. Total Lyme Cases Reported by CDC 1990-2008. Data compiled from CDC pub data (MMWR), 2009.
  14. Natural Resources Defense Council. Climate Change, Water, and Risk, 2010.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Union of Concerned Scientists. Our Changing Climate: Assessing the Risks to California, 2006.
  17. Ibid.
  18. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Report to Congress: Impacts and Control of CSOs and SSOs. Appendix D: List of Active CSO Permits, 2004.
  19. Federal Emergency Management Agency. DHS. Declared Disasters by Year or State, 2011.

California's Changing Climate

  • The frequency of extreme heat and prolonged drought are already increasing.1
  • In the future, with climate change, average temperatures in the state could rise anywhere from 4.7-10.5°F (2.6-5.8°C) by late century.2
  • Californians will experience greater exposure to public health threats such as heat-related sickness, air pollution, and water scarcity.
  • California has a strategy to prepare for the health impacts of climate change. The cities of Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Rafael have also identified local climate change-related health threats.

Climate Change Health Threats in California

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