Michigan eyes climate-related public health threats

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Along with many other states across the northern tier, Michigan just experienced one of its warmest winters on record.

Officials prep for impacts to vulnerable populations

Staff Report

Michigan residents are likely to face a growing range of climate-related threats in coming decades, including respiratory diseases, heat-related illnesses and water- and vector-borne diseases, according to a new report from university researchers and state health officials.

Overall, the experts said that changing climate conditions like warmer temperatures and more frequent big rainstorms are an emerging public health threat in the state, where the average temperature has increased by anywhere from 0.6 to 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1951. Average annual precipitation has increased by 4.5 percent during that period.

Specifically, the report warns that:

  • Warming temperatures could increase air pollution and drive up respiratory illnesses. A longer growing season could increase pollen levels, worsening allergy and asthma problems.
  • Heat waves are also likely to become more common, resulting in more heat-related illnesses and deaths.
  • More extreme rainfalls could increase flooding and put a strain on wastewater treatment systems, potentially increasing the risk of water-borne diseases and, in some cases, harmful algal blooms.
  • Warmer winters, earlier onset of spring and warmer summers all favor the emergence of mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile virus and tick-carried diseases such as Lyme disease.
  • Weather-related power outages are likely to increase, especially in the winter, leading to increased use of generators and related cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. An increased frequency of freezing rain and flooding will raise the risk of motor vehicle accidents and other types of injuries.

Public health and planning experts from state universities studied at-risk communities, including Detroit, to assess the risks of climate-related health problems for vulnerable populations.

“The findings from this report will help focus future efforts to strengthen Michigan’s public health preparedness as extreme weather events become increasingly common,” said GLISA Program Manager Elizabeth Gibbons, who served as a report editor and coordinated efforts with the state.

The Climate and Health Profile Report was funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report is the first step in a nationwide CDC effort to inform communities and public health officials about the most current climate science related to environment and health.

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