"Today, an African-American child is more than twice as likely to be hospitalized from asthma; a Latino child is 40 percent more likely to die from asthma. So if you care about low-income, minority communities, start protecting the air that they breathe, and stop trying to rob them of their health care." –- President Barack Obama, August 3, 2015
We have a right to breathe clean air. Climate change undermines this right by reducing air quality, putting our health at risk. In the last three years, we have experienced record-breaking warmth. Warmer temperatures lead to an increase in pollutants and allergens. Poor air quality leads to reduced lung function, increased risk of asthma complications, heart attacks, heart failure, and death. Air pollution and allergens are the main exposures affecting lung and heart health in this changing climate.
AMBIENT AIR POLLUTION
- Climate change increases particulate matter levels. The more we're exposed to particulate matter, the higher our risk for lung and heart problems. Increased particulate matter also shortens our overall life expectancy.
- Climate change increases ground-level ozone (a key component of smog). High levels of ozone exposure promote asthma attacks and can aggravate allergy symptoms.
- Droughts caused by climate change are leading to larger and more intense wildfires. The fine particles in smoke can penetrate deep into our lungs, affecting lung and heart health.
- Higher temperatures and increased carbon dioxide levels lead to earlier and longer pollen seasons as well as higher pollen potency. The result: a longer and more intense allergy season.
- Increased storms, precipitation, heat and humidity promote mold growth. Mold is a common trigger for asthma and allergies. If flooded areas and the contained objects are not dried quickly, mold can inhabit our homes, workplaces and schools.
THE HEART OF IT ALL
When we inhale fine particulate matter, it penetrates deep into our lungs, hurting our lung function. The presence of particulates in our lungs also harms our cardiovascular system three main ways: (1) by causing oxidative stress and inflammation; (2) by shifting the balance of our autonomic nervous system to a fight-or-flight state; and (3) by these toxins being transmitted into the bloodstream. This can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, high cholesterol, arrhythmia, and insulin resistance.
We are all at risk for the health harms caused by air pollution. And some communities bear more of the burden of unhealthy air, putting some more at risk health for problems. Children are especially vulnerable to harmful air pollutants because their organ systems are still developing. Many elderly people have pre-existing health conditions that are worsened by the impacts of climate change. Communities of color are more likely to be exposed to environmental hazards. What can we do? Health impact assessments can determine potential threats to air quality. And ensuring that the community has a voice in planning and policy development is essential to achieving equity.
Download the Air Quality, Lung and Heart Health Social Media Toolkit (PDF).
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CLIMATE CHANGE AND HEALTH SPOTLIGHTS