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Climate and Health Profiles

DPH is implementing the steps of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC's) Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE) framework to support local health efforts to prepare for the health implications of climate change.

Climate projections in the Northeast US predict:

  • frequency, intensity, and duration of heat waves are expected to increase, including many more days per year above 90°F compared to the end of last century
  • frequency, intensity, and duration of cold air outbreaks are expected to decrease as the century progresses
  • global sea levels are projected to rise 1 to 4 feet by 2100 depending in large part on the extent to which the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheets experience significant melting. Sea level rise of two feet, without any changes in storms, would more than triple the frequency of dangerous coastal flooding throughout most of the Northeast
  • frequency of heavy downpours is projected to continue to increase as the century progresses
  • seasonal drought risk is also projected to increase in summer and fall as higher temperatures lead to greater evaporation and earlier winter and spring snowmelt
  • the region’s populations, infrastructure, agriculture, and ecosystems are vulnerable to extreme weather events and associated coastal and/or inland flooding

The table below provides examples of climate impacts on human health.

  Climate Driver Exposure Health Outcome Impact
Extreme Heat Climate Driver More frequent, severe, prolonged heat events Exposure Elevated temperatures Health Outcome Heat-related death and illness Impact Rising temperatures will lead to an increase in heat-related deaths and illnesses
Outdoor Air Quality Climate Driver Increasing temperatures and changing precipitation patterns Exposure Worsened air quality (ozone, particulate matter, and higher pollen counts) Health Outcome Premature death, acute and chronic cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses Impact Rising temperatures and wildfires and decreasing precipitation will lead to increases in ozone and particulate matter, elevating the risks of cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses and death.
Flooding Climate Driver Rising sea level and more frequent or intense extreme precipitation, hurricanes, and storm surge events Exposure Contaminated water, debris, and disruptions to essential infrastructure Health Outcome Drowning, injuries, mental health consequences, gastrointestinal and other illness Impact Increased coastal and inland flooding exposes populations to a range of negative health impacts before, during, and after events
Vector-Borne Infection (Lyme Disease) Climate Driver Changes in temperature extremes and seasonal weather patterns Exposure Earlier and geographically expanded tick activity Health Outcome Lyme disease Impact Ticks will show earlier seasonal activity and a generally northward range expansion, increasing risk of human exposure to Lyme and disease-causing bacteria.
Water-Related Infection (Vibrio vulnificus ) Climate Driver Rising sea surface temperature, changes in precipitation, and runofff affecting coastal salinity Exposure Recreational water or shellfish contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus Health Outcome Vibrio vulnificus induced diarrhea & intestinal illness, wound and bloodstream infections, death Impact Increases in water temperatures will alter timing and location of Vibrio vulnificus growth, increasing exposure and risk of water-borne illness.
Food-Related Infection (Salmonella) Climate Driver Increases in temperature, humidity, and season length Exposure Increased growth of pathogens, seasonal shifts in incidence of Salmonella exposure Health Outcome Salmonella infection, gastrointestinal outbreaks Impact Rising temperatures increase Salmonella prevalence in food, longer seasons and warming waters increase risk of exposure and infection.
Mental Health and Well-Being Climate Driver Climate-change impacts, especially extreme weather Exposure Level of exposure to traumatic events, like disasters Health Outcome Distress, grief, behavioral health disorders, social impacts, resilience Impact Changes in exposure to climate- or weather-related disasters cause or exacerbate stress and mental health consequences, with greater risk for certain populations.

Source: US Global Change Research Program, 2016. The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. Crimmins, A., J. Balbus, J.L. Gamble, C.B. Beard, J.E. Bell, D. Dodgen, R.J. Eisen, N. Fann, M.D. Hawkins, S.C. Herring, L. Jantarasami, D.M. Mills, S. Saha, M.C. Sarofim, J. Trtanj, and L. Ziska, Eds. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, 312 pp.

Specific information on climate hazards and projected health impacts in Massachusetts is provided in the Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report. More detailed information from comprehensive, evidence-based scientific reports is available in the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP 20161) Climate and Health Assessment and the Northeast region chapter of the National Climate Assessment (Horton et al., 20142).

Tools for Implementing the BRACE Framework at the Community Level

Steps 1 and 2 of BRACE: Assessing Climate Impacts and Vulnerabilities and Projecting Disease Burden

  • Climate and Health Pathways identify the links between climate hazards, risk factors, populations at risk, vulnerable infrastructure, systems, physical features, and near- and long-term health impacts of climate change
  • Vulnerability Assessment: provides more in-depth information at the community level on factors that influence vulnerability to the health effects of climate change. We have also developed the Vulnerability Mapping Tool that provides maps of the locations of residents and areas at greatest risk for climate-related health threats at the municipal and census tract level.

Step 3: Assessing Public Health Interventions (coming soon)

  • Identify and promote evidence-based interventions that draw upon recommendations in the MA Climate Change Adaptation Report. Adaptation strategies and public health "good practice" standards to reduce climate-related health impacts.

Step 4: Developing Tools to Support the Development and Implementation of Climate and Health Adaptation Plans

  • Promote the use of Health Impact Assessments (HIA) framework to implement climate action strategies at the municipal and regional levels in Massachusetts: DPHs Bureau of Environmental Health (BEH) is working with the Bureau of Community Health and Prevention to integrate HIA framework into adaptation planning process. To support this effort, we worked with local health departments in Springfield and Willamsburg and Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) to conduct a pilot HIA of regional climate action strategies in Western Massachusetts. Assessing the Health Impacts and Benefits of Regional Climate Action Plan Strategies in Western Massachusetts

Step 5: Evaluating Impact and Improving the Quality of Activities

  • DPH is currently devising an Implementation and Monitoring Strategy (IMS) to evaluate and improve our program activities. With the assistance and input from our stakeholders in local health and climate change preparedness, the IMS will allow us to track the impact of our activities and improve our support for climate planning by local public health departments.

1 USGCRP, 2016. The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. Crimmins, A., J. Balbus, J.L. Gamble, C.B. Beard, J.E. Bell, D. Dodgen, R.J. Eisen, N. Fann, M.D. Hawkins, S.C. Herring, L. Jantarasami, D.M. Mills, S. Saha, M.C. Sarofim, J. Trtanj, and L. Ziska, Eds. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, 312 pp.

2 Melillo, Jerry M., Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and Gary W. Yohe, Eds., 2014: Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, 841 pp