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Climate Change and Health

Climate Impacts Raise Health Risks

Restaurant in front of green mountain with flooded road in front
Indirect effects from flooding can have serious health
impacts by damaging drinking water and sewage
disposal systems, carrying waterborne infections and
increasing vector borne diseases Photo: NYSDEC

Scientists warn that changes in climate can affect the frequency of severe weather events, the availability of clean air and water, the adequacy of food supplies and the occurrence of some infectious diseases.

Certain people are more vulnerable to emerging climate change impacts. Climate change raises health risks for people with existing physical or mental illness, children and older adults, those who work outdoors and those living along the coast or in areas prone to flooding.

Climate change can lead to weather events and conditions that are associated with health hazards, such as:

  • Heat waves, which can cause heat-related illnesses, heat stroke and other serious health problems. Heat waves also can make it more likely that people who already have heart, lung, or other chronic conditions might get sick.
  • Warmer temperatures, which can expand ranges for disease-carrying insects, and also can increase pollen production and air pollution. Pollen and pollution raise risks for people who suffer from asthma; infectious diseases transmitted by mosquito and tick bites (such as Lyme disease or West Nile Virus) may appear in previously unaffected locations when the insects' range expands.
  • Changing precipitation patterns such as drought and flooding may take the form of extreme events that directly cause human injury or death. Less extreme changes may affect public health in other ways - for example, by reducing the availability of water for drinking and other human needs, or by creating damp conditions in homes, schools and workplaces that promote mold and other pests.
  • Disruptions to agriculture from frequent drought, flooding and unseasonal heat or frost events can interfere with successful food production. Altered growing and storage conditions could require changes in crop and livestock species or food production practices, promote emerging pathogens or affect the movement of environmental contaminants into food supplies.

For information about strategies to protect against human health impacts, visit the website of the New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH Strategies link at right).

New York responds to climate change

DOH partners with local, state, and national groups and agencies to assess potential health issues associated with climate changes. For detailed information on health impacts associated with climate change, see NYSDOH's website (link at right).

Two New York State-sponsored reports include broad examinations of how climate change will affect New York:

  • The New York State Climate Action Plan Interim Report developed by the New York State Climate Action Council, was published in 2011. A technical work group for climate change adaptation examined the health impacts of climate change and outlined strategies to promote adaptation and resilience.
  • Responding to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) is part of the Interim Report. It provided a basis for the report's public health adaptation strategies, with case studies and other detailed information (link at right).

New York State is involved in many other activities that have a public health component. The NYSERDA Integrated Assessment for Effective Climate Change Adaptation Strategies in New York State (link at right) examines climate change impacts and needs specific to New York.

For questions, contact New York State Department of Health at: climatehealth@health.ny.gov

Federal actions on climate and health

Responding to climate change provides opportunities to improve human health and well-being across many sectors, including energy, agriculture, and transportation, according to the Third National Climate assessment (link at right), published in 2014.

Many climate change response strategies offer a variety of benefits, protecting people while combating climate change and providing other societal benefits.

Currently, the federal government is engaged in a series of actions (Federal Actions link at right) that aim to reduce the human health impacts of climate change. The actions include convening experts to identify climate impacts and solutions; ensuring full consideration of existing data about past weather patterns and public health conditions; publicizing best practices and success stories, and training health practitioners to address health impacts from the changing climate.