Report examines climate change, health

WASHINGTON — Another forecast about climate change is here — but this time it's about the potential impact on public health.

So far, just five states have developed a strategy to deal with climate change, and Kansas isn't one of them.

"All these problems are coming, but as country we haven't done enough to prepare for them," said Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health, a nonpartisan public health advocacy group that authored the report.

Levi and other experts spoke about the report during a conference call Monday with reporters.

Only California, Virginia, Maryland, Washington and New Hampshire have a climate change strategic plan that includes a public health response, according to the report, "Health Problems Heat Up: Climate Change and the Public's Health."

Twelve states, including Kansas, have climate change panels whose memberships include someone from the state's public health agency.

Kansas is also among 22 states, plus New York City, which have received federal money to track health problems and the environment, and one of the 49 to get funds to track insect-spread disease. But it is not among the 33 states that have received federal funds for asthma control programs.

Kansas has created a Bureau of Environmental Health. Among its goals is to study the effects of climate change, according to Maggie Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Climate change refers to the buildup in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which trap heat much like the way a greenhouse does. Over time it has caused the planet and the oceans to heat up, according to scientists.

"Over the years we've heard a lot about the impact global warming is having or will have on our natural habitat," said Phyllis Cuttino, director of the U.S. Global Warming Campaign for the Pew Environmental Group. "We've heard a lot less how these changes are likely to impact our health."

They are likely to affect temperature and air quality. Predictions call for more severe and extreme weather, such as floods, droughts and hurricanes.

The report said that certain communities, such as high-density, low-income urban neighborhoods and low-lying coastal areas, could be more at-risk for public health problems.

Certain groups of people could be as well: infants and children, pregnant women, the elderly, the poor, minorities and people with chromic medical conditions.

The report recommended that a "national action plan" be developed to improve the ability of the states to respond.