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Climate Change - Frequently Asked Questions

Why is climate change a public health concern?

Historically, climate change has been primarily considered an environmental concern; however it is clear that it is a human health issue as well. The most noticeable and publicized consequence of climate change is an increase in temperature; however there are a wide variety of ways that climate change can negatively impact human health. The topics most relevant to local health departments in Massachusetts are: heat stress and exacerbations of heat related illness, decreases in indoor and ambient air quality, decrease in water quality and sanitation, harm to agriculture and food systems, increased risk for vector-borne illnesses (Lyme disease, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), West Nile Virus (WNV), etc.), and increased vulnerability of populations already at risk (the elderly, children, people with disabilities and/or isolated, etc.).

Why is climate change relevant to local health departments?

Local health departments are often the first ones asked to address public health concerns. Many of the public health issues thought to be caused and/or exacerbated by climate change will therefore require significant involvement of local health officials.

What is meant by adaptation as pertaining to climate change?

In this context, adaptation is best described as the way a municipality takes action to adjust to meet the health needs of the community as a result of climate change.

What are some examples of adaptation that may be required?

One example is the need to create cooling centers in strategic locations in order to decrease the impact of extreme heat, especially among vulnerable populations. Other examples include using health surveillance data to identify populations that are most vulnerable to various health threats; developing plans to address the needs of vulnerable populations during disasters, and regulating development in areas at risk for infrastructure damage caused by climate change.

How is the Commonwealth’s readiness and capacity for adaptation being assessed?

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) worked in partnership with other state agencies under the leadership of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) to develop a comprehensive state-wide climate change adaptation report. Please visit the links section to view the report. Building on this work the Bureau of Environmental Health (BEH) surveyed municipalities in Massachusetts. The goal of the survey was to assess the awareness, preparedness, and the capacity and resources available for adaptation strategies at the community level.

Where can I find more information about climate change or climate and health?

Visit the climate change links section for a list of informative links on related topics.

Are there any available data related to flooding or sea level rise for the state?

FEMA has been revising their flood maps, and the latest version of those maps is available on the MassGIS webpage and in the Oliver mapping tool.  As these new maps are mostly focused on coastal flood hazards, the older versions of the FEMA FIRM maps have been digitized and are available on the MassGIS webpage in the links section (Q3 flood maps). We have used these maps to generate estimates of the percentage of residential land in 100 year, 500 year, and Coastal Hazard flood zones for each community, and those data are available through our vulnerability mapping tool.

Predictions for the amount of sea level rise in the state are listed in the state's Climate Change Adaptation Report, which is also included in the links section, but there has been no mapping of these data.

Is vulnerability to sea level rise more than flooding?

Yes, other issues can include saltwater intrusion of drinking water or exacerbation of weather events such as more extensive damage from storm surges.

I looked at the Climate Change Adaptation Report and the rate of sea level rise doesn't seem very large. Is it really an important issue today?

Sea level rise is a rate that does not include regular changes in sea level, such as low tide or high tide, or other factors related to weather, such as storm surge. Therefore a small increase can be an issue under the right conditions. It is also important to consider potential sea level rise when planning any infrastructure or developments that are expected to last for decades.

Where are data about predicted rates of sea level rise?

The state's Climate Change Adaptation Report includes information on sea level rise.

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