Climate Change and Your Health

Climate Change Health Threats in Washington

Click a tab to view different climate-health vulnerabilities
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
Learn more about the map content >>
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
Learn more about the map content >>
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
Learn more about the map content >>
2000-2009 Averages, Number of Days Per Year of Extreme Low Flow by Watershed   < 15   15 - 33   > 33   Insufficient flow data
Learn more about the map content >>
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
Learn more about the map content >>
Extreme Weather Events
Record Rainfall
Record temperature
Extreme drought
Record Snowfall
Wildfire
Extreme flooding
Learn more about the map content >>

Air Pollution

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

  • 7 counties have ragweed pollution.3
  • Asthma sickens an estimated 145,100 kids and 464,000 adults.4
  • By mid-century, King County will likely experience 132 additional deaths due to poor air quality.5

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 Washington's state action plan for air pollution

Extreme Heat

  • 5 counties saw record-breaking temperatures in the summer of 2010.6
  • Extreme heat could increase heat-related deaths by about 100 by 2025.7

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 Washington's state action plan for extreme heat

Infectious Diseases

  • 54 cases of Dengue Fever were reported between 1995-2005.8
  • 230 cases of Lyme disease were reported to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) between 1990-2008.9

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 Washington's state action plan for infectious disease

Drought

  • Snowpack is expected to decrease 30% next decade, and earlier snowmelt will increase water shortages.10
  • About 67% of the state's counties now face a higher risk of water shortages by mid-century as the result of climate change.11

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 Washington's state action plan for drought

Flooding

  • Close to 40 communities along the coast -- including some with the state's largest populations -- are threatened by rising sea levels.12
  • Combined sewer overflows are a health risk for 11 communities, including Seattle and Spokane.13
  • The state has been declared a disaster area 5 times since 2000, due to severe storms and flooding.14
  • Changing rainfall washes nutrients into waterways and can increase risks of harmful, toxic algal blooms that threaten seafood safety and people's health.15

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 Washington's state action plan for flooding

Extreme Weather

Washington experienced in 2011:

  • Record-breaking heat in 3 counties and a total of 6 broken heat records
  • Record-breaking rainfall in 12 counties and a total of 25 broken rainfall records
  • Record-breaking snow in 7 counties and a total of 10 broken snowfall records

Protect your family from extreme weather:

Find out more about the effects of extreme weather

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

Washington's Climate Adaptation Strategy

Air Pollution:

Washington's strategy to prepare climate change includes measures to address air quality threats by reducing current air quality problems, tracking contaminant levels, informing healthcare providers, and improving public outreach.

Washington's climate preparedness strategy includes the following measures to prevent increases health threats from worsening air quality due to climate change:

  • Improve coordination and communication between regional air pollution control authorities, nongovernmental health organizations, Department of Ecology, Department of Health, and local health jurisdictions on air quality surveillance.
  • Adopt standardized air health-risk communication strategies.
  • Improve health information dissemination strategies.
  • Increase health care provider outreach and education on air quality information sources and health implications.
  • Perform integrated air quality modeling under differing climate change scenarios using local meteorology and emissions patterns.
  • The state should continue to explore new methods and programs designed to alleviate air quality problems.

Extreme Heat:

Washington's strategy to prepare for climate change includes measures to address health threats from extreme heat by improving preparedness and emergency response systems. King County is also directing efforts to improve capacity to respond to extreme heat emergencies.

Washington's (and King County's) climate preparedness strategy includes the following measures to prevent increases in health impacts from extreme heat due to climate change:

  • A Heat Emergency Task Forces should be convened to review emergency management planning requirements and guidelines for heat emergencies and emergency preparedness exercises.
  • Conduct retrospective epidemiological analysis of human health consequences of heat waves and examine the capacity of weather prediction agencies to accurately forecast heat events with potential human consequences.
  • Better prepare local communities for heat wave emergencies by developing population predictions over the next century with specific attention to the number of vulnerable groups living in areas subject to extreme heat events.
  • The state should examine various means of reducing body temperature during times of heat wave emergencies, including innovative techniques that do not rely on electrical grids.
  • Work with Seattle - King County Public Health, Office of Emergency Management, King County departments, hospitals and providers to integrate considerations of climate change into response protocols for related public health emergencies (e.g. extreme heat events).
  • The Emergency Management Division should coordinate improvements to the state's ability to respond to heat wave emergencies. Improvements should include:
    • Enhancement of statewide public awareness of the dangers of excessive heat and ways that individuals and the public can prevent health-related problems.
    • Development of an effective statewide early warning system for heat wave emergencies in close coordination with the National Weather Service.
    • Enhancement of public health infrastructure at the local level that will enable public health organizations to assume the role of Incident Command during heat wave events and to assure effective coordination with state and federal resources under National Incident Management guidelines.
    • Improved collaboration among municipal agencies, hospitals, public safety, emergency medical services, industry and business, nongovernmental organizations, and others.
    • Establishment of standards for public cooling centers for those without access to air conditioning.
    • Planning for response to extreme heat events accompanied by blackouts or power shortages.
    • Plans for providing transportation to at-risk persons to cooling centers or to triage and/or health care facilities.
    • A comprehensive system of training and exercises that enhances interagency coordination, that finds areas for plan improvement, and that revises the plan accordingly.

Infectious Disease:

Washington's strategy to prepare for climate change includes measures to increase the overall efficiency and sensitivity of their current surveillance systems to monitor and respond to disease events. King County's plan includes measures to research infectious disease threat and improve response protocols.

Washington's climate preparedness strategy includes the following measures to prevent increases in the spread of infectious diseases due to climate change:

  • The Department of Health (DOH) should increase the overall efficiency and sensitivity of the current surveillance systems to monitor and respond to disease events.
    • Revise mandate laboratory reporting requirements to enhance public health investigation and follow-up on emerging disease trends.
    • Require electronic reporting to DOH of all notifiable conditions.
    • Develop web-based training modules on notifiable conditions and reporting for healthcare providers, laboratories, veterinarians, and local health jurisdictions.
  • Conduct new laboratory and animal model research into the impact of temperature and humidity on pathogenesis of disease.
  • Incorporate climate parameters into standard Susceptible, Exposed, Infectious, or Recovered (SEIR) modeling efforts on infectious disease.
  • Identify the most vulnerable populations by improving Washington's demographic tracking programs to map major population immigrations and associated disease risks at their source country.
  • Explore the use of remote sensing and vegetation change to direct vector-borne disease investigation.

King County's climate preparedness strategy includes the following measures to prevent increases in the spread of infectious diseases due to climate change:

  • Seattle -- King County Public Health will convene an internal departmental group to increase understanding about climate change impacts to public health. This departmental group should include the areas of emergency preparedness, community health, and animal-borne disease, at a minimum.
  • Work with the King County Office of Emergency Management, hospitals, and providers to develop response protocols for anticipated climate change impacts (e.g., West Nile virus outbreak).

Drought:

Washington's strategy to prepare for climate change includes measures that focus on ensuring adequate drinking water resources and fire protections in areas likely to be affected by drought and improving drought forecasting capability. King County's strategy includes a measure to develop emergency response protocols for events like droughts.

  • Ensure adequate drinking water resources and fire protections are addressed in areas likely to be affected by drought.
  • Fund the drought preparedness and emergency water supply project accounts and modify the utilization requirements therein.
  • Create appropriate statewide drought management strategies that account for evolving drought risks in a warmer climate.
  • Remove the 10 percent allocation cap for non-agriculture uses for emergency drought relief.
  • Improve drought-forecasting capability.

Flooding:

Washington's strategy to prepare for climate change includes a measure to research flood threats over various timeframes. King County's plan includes specific measures to incorporate climate change impacts into floodplain management programs and improve storm water and wastewater systems to prevent exposures to toxic and bacterial contaminants.

King County's climate preparedness strategy includes the following measures to prevent the health impacts from increased flooding due to climate change:

  • Incorporate climate change impacts into the King County River and Floodplain Management Program, as guided by the King County Flood Hazard Management Plan and related implementation activities.
  • Continue to collaborate with flood hazard management, storm water and wastewater planner in the Department of Natural Resources and Parks to minimize exposure to toxics in water address the health implications of flooding (e.g. commingling of storm water and wastewater) and ensure that the region has proper sanitation, proper disposal of waste and toxics, and clean water into the future.

Extreme Weather:

Washington's climate preparedness strategy includes measures to protect public health from the increasing threat of extreme heat caused by climate change.

Find out more

  1. U.S. Global Change Research Program. Global Climate Change Impacts in the U.S. Region: Northwest, 2009.
  2. University of Washington Climate Impacts Group. The Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment, 2009.
  3. Natural Resources Defense Council. Sneezing and Wheezing, 2007.
  4. American Lung Association. Estimated Prevalence and Incidence of Lung Disease, 2010.
  5. University of Washington Climate Impacts Group. The Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment, 2009.
  6. Natural Resources Defense Council. The Worst Summer Ever? 2010.
  7. University of Washington Climate Impacts Group. The Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment, 2009.
  8. Natural Resources Defense Council. Fever Pitch, 2009.
  9. Lyme Disease Association. Total Lyme Cases Reported by CDC 1990-2008. Data compiled from CDC pub data (MMWR), 2009.
  10. University of Washington Climate Impacts Group. The Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment, 2009.
  11. Natural Resources Defense Council. Climate Change, Water, and Risk, 2010.
  12. Washington State Department of Ecology. http://www.ecy.wa.gov/climatechange/index.htm
  13. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Report to Congress: Impacts and Control of CSOs and SSOs. Appendix D: List of Active CSO Permits, 2004.
  14. Federal Emergency Management Agency. DHS. Declared Disasters by Year or State, 2011.
  15. Natural Resources Defense Council. Tides of Trouble: Increased Threats to Human Health and Ecosystems from Harmful Algal Blooms, 2010.

Washington's Changing Climate

  • Average temperatures, heavier rainfall, drier summers, bad air days, and sea levels are already increasing.1
  • In the future, with climate change, temperatures are projected to rise another 3.5°F (2°C) by mid century and 5.9°F (3.3°C) by late century.2
  • Residents will likely face water shortages from early snowmelt, more frequent very hot days, declining air quality in urban areas, and increased flood risks.
  • Washington has a strategy to prepare for the health impacts of climate change. King County also developed its own climate preparedness plan.

Climate Change Health Threats in Washington

Share | |
Find NRDC on
YouTube