Kids' Health Suffers As Climate Change Worsens Smog

If you have had the mistaken impression that climate change is something that's not going to affect anyone you know, or any place nearby until a long time from now -- please think again. A new study led by Dr. Perry Sheffield from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City - along with her colleagues Dr. Philip Landrigan at Mt. Sinai, Dr. Patrick L. Kinney at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, and me at NRDC - found that more children will end up hospitalized over the next decade because of respiratory problems resulting from projected climate change. The abstract was presented on Sunday, May 3, 2009 at the Pediatric Academic Societies Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.  Dr. Sheffield's work on this eye-opening research finds a direct connection between air pollution and the health of children.

Air pollution has many known harmful effects on kids' respiratory health, and one of the best-documented impacts of climate change is an increase in ground-level ozone smog concentrations, in response to rising temperatures. The hotter the temperature and the more incident sunlight, the more ozone tends to form. Rising temperatures are projected for urban areas like the New York City metropolitan area as global warming continues. But it's not just city kids that will experience health risks from climate change: suburban areas downwind can experience even higher ozone levels.

For this study, Dr. Sheffield evaluated computer model simulations of New York City air quality and its health effects. She found that by 2020, respiratory hospitalizations are projected to rise 4-7% percent for children under two years old because of projected climate change-related ozone smog increases.  "These significant changes in children's hospitalizations from respiratory illnesses would be a direct result of projected climate-change effects on ground-level ozone concentrations," said Dr. Sheffield. "This research is important because it shows that we as a country need to implement policies that both improve air quality and also prevent climate change because this could improve health in the present and prevent worsening respiratory illness in the future."

A little over two weeks ago on April 17, 2009, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that the Agency has already officially recognized that greenhouse gas pollution endangers human health and the environment. Here in New York City, kids in many communities already experience high asthma prevalence rates, and Dr. Sheffield's new study may cause local parents deep concern. Our kids rely on us, the older (and supposedly wiser) generation, to be their protectors. Now it's time for the regulators -- and legislators -- to keep following through and do their part to protect children's health from the dangers of global warming.