Protecting public health by reducing climate change


BOSTON – The American Lung Association of the Northeast hosted a roundtable discussion today on climate change and its impact on health. Experts in the fields of medicine, state government, public policy and public health gathered at Harvard Medical School to express their concerns about rising temperatures and pollution rates resulting from climate change and its consequences on lung and heart health. Diane Pickles, Vice President of M+R Strategies who consults with the Lung Association on their Healthy Air Campaign, served as moderator.

Scientists warn that the buildup of carbon pollution will create warmer temperatures, which will increase the risk of unhealthful smog (ozone) levels. This is particularly harmful to those who suffer with chronic respiratory diseases like asthma and COPD. According to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2013 report, nearly a third of Massachusetts residents currently live in areas of failing or near-failing air quality.

“Air pollution is particularly dangerous for children, whose lungs are still growing, and the elderly, who endure more chronic health problems,” said Edward Miller, Senior Vice President of Policy for the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “Climate change only makes the situation worse, by amplifying the amount of pollution we are forced to breathe.”

“The protection of our environment is not just a matter of conserving resources for the future, it is about making our economy stronger by growing clean energy jobs and promoting public health for all Massachusetts citizens,” said Senator Marc R. Pacheco (D-Taunton), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, and Vice-Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health. “In Massachusetts, with laws such as the Global Warming Solutions Act, we are acting on our responsibility to cut down greenhouse gas emissions for the safety of citizens today and for generations to come. Moving away from a fossil fuel economy will protect the environment, improve our public health, and support a vibrant clean energy economy in Massachusetts.”

“Patients with asthma and COPD are particularly sensitive to changes in weather, and one of the major consequences of climate change has been an increase in days with extreme heat,” said Dr. Mary Rice, a Pulmonary & Critical Care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and research fellow in air pollution and lung disease at Harvard Medical School. “Acute rises in temperature and humidity are associated with increased emergency room visits for asthma, especially in children, and increased mortality for people with COPD. Climate models predict that in the coming decades, extreme heat events are likely to become still more frequent.”

In addition to serving as event moderator, Pickles shared her personal story about managing her son’s asthma. “It is terrifying to watch your child struggle with an asthma attack. For kids like mine, poor air quality days threaten health and significantly impact quality of life,” she said. Nearly one in ten children in Massachusetts suffers from asthma.

The goal of the Climate Health Roundtable discussion was to heighten awareness to the impact of climate change on health and to discuss educational and public policy solutions for reducing its effects on the Commonwealth.

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