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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Iowa Researchers Examine Public Health Risks Associated with Climate Change

University of Iowa researchers recently released a report that examines public health risks associated with climate change. Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans, co-authored in conjunction with the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research by University of Iowa College of Public Health faculty members Drs. Peter Thorne and David Osterberg, was signed by 180 researchers and scientists from 38 colleges and universities across the state of Iowa.

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[Photo: Drs. Peter Thorne (left) and David Osterberg]

The report finds that the effects of climate change has contributed to increases in cardiovascular and respiratory health problems for Iowans. Hotter temperatures and higher levels of carbon dioxide enable plants to produce greater levels of pollen with a higher allergen content. The longer growing season not only increases exposure allergens but new allergenic plants are also making their way into Iowa.

Asthma rates for children are on the rise – and have been since the 1980s – and this can be attributed to more exposure to flood molds as well as indoor moisture levels. Fine particulate matter in the air, which is made worse by heat in urban areas, has also contributed to this rise in asthma rates while nighttime heat stress and air pollutants increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, especially for aging adults.

Water quality issues were also outlined in the 2014 statement. Excessive heavy rains have increased exposure to toxic chemicals and raw sewage spread by flood waters. Heavy rains also lead to soil runoff in agricultural areas which then pollutes waterways with nitrates and phosphorus. These substances coupled with high temperatures on still bodies on water have spurred the growth of harmful algal blooms which can make water unsafe for consumption or recreation for both humans and animals. Similar algal blooms contaminated the water supply for nearly half a million people in Toledo, Ohio during the summer.

Other infectious diseases have been on the rise in Iowa and throughout the Midwest as disease-carrying organisms – such as ticks and mosquitoes – migrate north. Cases of Dengue Fever and Ehrlichiosis have been reported in Iowa this year as hotter temperatures, greater rainfall levels, and longer summers enable these organisms to live longer.

Climate change has also impacted mental health, albeit in a more subtle way. Research since the 1980s suggests that there is a correlation between higher temperatures and aggression or violence.