Massachusetts Department of Public Health seal Massachusetts Environmental Public Health Tracking

Climate and Health Pathways By Which Climate Change Could Affect Health

Conceptual Pathways for Climate-Related Health Outcomes

Climate Drivers Hazard Exposures Vulnerable Groups Health Risks
Climate Driver: Heat Hazard: Heat Events
  • More frequent
  • Longer duration
  • More extreme
Exposures: Elevated temperatures Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals over age 65
  • Children under age 5
  • Individuals with:
    • Diabetes
    • Cardiovascular disease
    • Renal system disease
    • Outdoor workers
    • Outdoor recreation
Health Risks:
  • Heat Exhaustion
  • Heat Stroke
  • Illness or death due to cardiovascular disease
  • Illness or death due to renal system failure
Hazard: Poor Outdoor Air Quality
  • increased generation of ozone and PM
  • increased pollen production
  • longer pollen season
Exposures: Elevated levels of ozone Vulnerable Groups:
  • Outdoor workers
  • Outdoor recreation
  • Individuals with:
  • Asthma
  • COPD
  • Lung Disease
  • Respiratory disease
  • Cardiovascular disease
Health Risks:
  • Respiratory arrest/death
  • Exacerbation of asthma and other lung disease
  • Exacerbation of allergies and respiratory infections
  • Reduction of childhood lung function growth
Exposures: Elevated levels of pollen Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals with allergies
  • Individuals with asthma
Health Risks:
  • Exacerbation of asthma
  • More frequent allergy symptoms for longer periods of the year
Hazard: Food-borne Illness Exposures: Spoiled food from refrigeration failure in transport/storage Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals over age 65
  • Children under age 6
  • Pregnant women
  • Individuals with compromised immune systems
Health Risks:
  • Gastrointestinal illness
Exposures: Changes in patterns of salmonella growth Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals over age 65
  • Children under age 6
  • Pregnant women
  • Individuals with compromised immune systems
Health Risks:
  • Salmonella infection
Climate Driver: Heat and Precipitation Changes Hazard: Disease Carrying Pests
  • Longer exposure seasons
  • Expanding geographical ranges
  • Increased habitat
  • Higher breeding rates
Exposures: Ticks Vulnerable Groups:
  • Outdoor workers
  • Outdoor recreation
  • Individuals with pets that go outdoors
Health Risks:
  • Lyme Disease
  • Babesiosis
  • Other tick-borne illness
Exposures: Mosquitoes Vulnerable Groups:
  • Outdoor workers
  • Outdoor recreation
  • Individuals over age 50
  • Individuals under age 15
Health Risks:
  • West Nile Virus
  • Eastern Equine Encephalitis
Hazard: Water-borne illnesses Exposures: Water or shellfish contaminated with Vibrio Vulnificus Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals over age 65
  • Children under age 6
  • Pregnant women
  • Individuals with compromised immune systems
Health Risks:
  • Gastrointestinal illness
Exposures: Contact with fecal bacteria contaminated water from runoff, flooding or sewer overflow discharge Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals over age 65
  • Children under age 6
  • Pregnant women
  • Individuals with compromised immune systems
Health Risks:
  • Gastrointestinal Illness
  • Urinary tract infection
Climate Driver: Precipitation ChangesHazard: Flooding Exposures: Contaminated flood water (direct contact or flood-contaminated drinking water) Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals over age 65
  • Children under age 6
  • Pregnant women
  • Individuals with compromised immune systems
Health Risks:
  • Gastrointestinal illness
  • Urinary tract infection
Exposures: Debris/Physical hazards Vulnerable Groups:
  • Adolescents
  • Young adults
  • Utility workers
  • Rescue workers
Health Risks:
  • Injury, drowning, electrocution
Exposures: Relocation/Displacement Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals over age 65
  • Individuals with mobility limitations
  • Individuals under age 18
  • Individuals with low socioeconomic status
  • Individuals with low English language fluency
  • Non-white persons
  • Immigrants
  • Renters
Health Risks:
  • Psychological stress
  • Financial loss stress
  • Loss of employment
  • Alcohol/drug abuse
Exposures: Mold/mildew Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals with immune system or respiratory issues
  • Individuals with allergies
  • Individuals with asthma
Health Risks:
  • Respiratory illness
Hazard: Drought Exposures: Water quality degradation Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals over age 65
  • Children under age 6
  • Pregnant women
  • Individuals with compromised immune systems
Health Risks:
  • Gastrointestinal Illness
  • Heavy metal poisoning
  • Nitrate exposure
Exposures: Sinkholes/Land Subsidence Vulnerable Groups:
  • All people
Health Risks:
  • Physical Injuries/death
  • Psychological stress
Exposures: Loss of green spaces Vulnerable Groups:
  • All people
Health Risks:
  • Heat-related illnesses
Climate Driver: Sea Level Rise

Hazard: Coastal Flooding Exposures:
  • Contaminated flood water
  • Contaminated drinking water
Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals over age 65
  • Children under age 6
  • Pregnant women
  • Individuals with compromised immune systems
Health Risks:
  • Gastrointestinal illness
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Sepsis (overwhelming systemic infection)
Exposures: Debris/Physical hazards Vulnerable Groups:
  • Adolescents
  • Young adults
  • Utility workers
  • Rescue workers
Health Risks:
  • Injury, drowning, electrocution
Exposures: Relocation/Displacement Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals over age 65
  • Individuals with mobility limitations
  • Individuals under age 18
  • Individuals with low socioeconomic status
  • Individuals with low English language fluency
  • Non-white persons
  • Immigrants
  • Renters
Health Risks:
  • Psychological stress
  • Financial loss stress
  • Loss of employment
  • Alcohol/drug abuse
Exposures: Mold/mildew Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals with immune system or respiratory issues
  • Individuals with allergies
  • Individuals with asthma
Health Risks:
  • Allergic reactions
  • Respiratory illness
Exposures: Salinization of land (loss of green spaces) Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals susceptible to heat-related illnesses
Health Risks:
  • Heat-related illnesses
Hazard: Rising tide levels Exposures: Mold/mildew around buildings Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals with immune system or respiratory issues
  • Individuals with Allergies
  • Individuals with Asthma
Health Risks:
  • Allergic reactions
  • Respiratory illness
Exposures: Salinization of land (loss of green spaces) Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals susceptible to heat-related illnesses
Health Risks:
  • Heat-related illnesses
Hazard: Infrastructure Loss Exposures: Relocation/Displacement Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals over age 65
  • Individuals with mobility limitations
  • Individuals under age 18
  • Individuals with low socioeconomic status
  • Individuals with low English language fluency
  • Non-white persons
  • Immigrants
  • Renters
Health Risks:
  • Psychological stress
  • Financial loss stress
  • Loss of employment
  • Alcohol/drug abuse
Climate Driver: Sea Level Rise and Extreme Weather

Hazard: Large Tropical Storms
  • Increased frequency
  • Increased precipitation on coast and inland
  • Storm surge hazard increased by rising sea levels
Exposures:
  • Contaminated flood water
  • Contaminated drinking water
Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals over age 65
  • Children under age 6
  • Pregnant women
  • Individuals with compromised immune systems
Health Risks:
  • Gastrointestinal illness
  • Urinary tract infection
Exposures: Debris/Physical hazards Vulnerable Groups:
  • Adolescents
  • Young adults
  • Utility workers
  • Rescue workers
Health Risks:
  • Injury, drowning, electrocution
Exposures: Relocation/Displacement Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals over age 65
  • Individuals with mobility limitations
  • Individuals under age 18
  • Individuals with low socioeconomic status
  • Individuals with low English language fluency
  • Non-white persons
  • Immigrants
  • Renters
Health Risks:
  • Psychological stress
  • Financial loss stress
  • Loss of employment
Exposures: Mold/mildew Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals with immune system or respiratory issues
  • Individuals with allergies
  • Individuals with asthma
Health Risks:
  • Allergic sensitization and reactions
  • Respiratory illness
Exposures: Salinization of land (loss of green spaces) Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals susceptible to heat-related illnesses
Health Risks:
  • Heat-related illnesses
Hazard: Severe winter storms
  • Increased precipitation on coast and inland
  • Storm surge hazard increased by rising sea levels
Exposures:
  • Contaminated flood water
  • Contaminated drinking water
Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals over age 65
  • Children under age 6
  • Pregnant women
  • Individuals with compromised immune systems
Health Risks:
  • Gastrointestinal illness
  • Urinary tract infection
Exposures: Debris/Physical hazards Vulnerable Groups:
  • Adolescents
  • Young adults
  • Utility workers
  • Rescue workers
Health Risks:
  • Injury, drowning, electrocution
Exposures: Relocation/Displacement Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals over age 65
  • Individuals with mobility limitations
  • Individuals under age 18
  • Individuals with low socioeconomic status
  • Individuals with low English language fluency
  • Non-white persons
  • Immigrants
  • Renters
Health Risks:
  • Psychological stress
  • Financial loss stress
  • Loss of employment
Exposures: Mold/mildew Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals with immune system or respiratory issues
  • Individuals with Allergies
  • Individuals with Asthma
Health Risks:
  • Allergic reactions
  • Respiratory illness
Exposures: Salinization of land (loss of green spaces) Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals susceptible to heat-related illnesses
Health Risks:
  • Heat-related illnesses
Climate Driver: Extreme Weather Hazard: Increased frequency of destructive ice storms Exposures: Loss of electricity, heat Vulnerable Groups:
  • Individuals over age 65
  • Individuals living alone
  • Young children
Health Risks:
  • Hypothermia
  • CO Poisoning
Exposures: Debris/Physical hazards Vulnerable Groups:
  • Adolescents
  • Young adults
  • Utility workers
  • Rescue workers
Health Risks:
  • Injuries from debris, downed wires, falling trees, falls, and motor vehicle accidents
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