Climate Change to Increase Respiratory Health Threats in St. Louis

While spring is always a welcome sight after a long dreary winter, it can be a rude awakening if you suffer from allergies and asthma. The itchy eyes, sneezing and wheezing are not only inconvenient, for some it can be dangerous.

A new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that one-in-three Americans lives in the "sneeziest and wheeziest" cities and distinguishes the St. Louis region among one of the heaviest impacted in the country. The report, "Sneezing and Wheezing, How Climate Change Could Increase Ragweed Allergies, Air Pollution and Asthma," warns that if carbon pollution resulting in climate change isn't curbed, the risk to adverse health effects could increase.

Carbon pollution, a major contributor for climate change, increases temperatures and can make ragweed produce more pollen over a longer season. This is also true for other pollen-producing plants such as birch, oak and pine trees. In addition, warmer temperatures enhance the reactions that form ozone, which irritate the lungs and can lead to lung inflammation.

For those with respiratory health ailments, living areas where they are exposed to both ragweed pollen and ozone smog pollution can worsen allergy and asthma symptoms. Scientific studies project, respiratory allergies and asthma associated with ragweed and ground-level ozone are expected to increase if carbon dioxide concentrations keep rising and climate change is left unchecked.

This distinction for the St. Louis region is because the entire state of Missouri has a heavy presence of ragweed and some areas in addition to St. Louis also exceed ozone health standards. According to American Lung Association data, more than 900,000 children and adults in Missouri live with asthma or chronic respiratory disease--and with rising temperatures, worsening air quality is making it harder for them to breathe.

For better or worse, the environment we live in directly impacts public health. This report should serve as a wakeup call for policymakers and state officials because, as climate change warms our planet, millions more Americans could suffer from allergies and asthma. These threats reinforce the need to take action now.

The report comes as Missouri policymakers and utilities are making decisions about Missouri's energy future, including how much clean renewable energy to invest in for electricity generation, how much to invest in energy efficiency as a tool to reduce the need for polluting power plants, and how the state will comply with upcoming new federal regulations to reduce carbon pollution from electric power plants. The report gives Missouri policy makers another reason to (1) Require the state's electric and gas utilities to capture all of the cost-effective potential for energy efficiency; (2) Expand the state's commitment to renewable energy so that Missouri can attract more wind and solar project development; and (3) Make these clean energy investments the cornerstone of a strong state implementation plan for compliance with the Clean Power Plan, which will reduce carbon emissions by one-third across the country.

See the report for more recommendations on protecting your family from both ozone smog and pollen.