Public Health

When most people think about climate change, they think about melting ice caps, polar bears losing their hunting grounds, and small island nations being flooded by rising sea levels. But for public health officials and researchers, many of the changes driven by climate change also have an impact on human health and affect many areas of life right here in the Great Lakes region. Rising temperatures exacerbate heat waves that kill dozens of people each summer, especially in large cities. Changes in the water cycle cause rainfall extremes from droughts to flooding, which affect everything from agriculture to sewage management. And stagnant air masses brought on by higher temperatures concentrate air pollution from traffic and industry, aggravating respiratory symptoms like asthma and bronchitis, especially for people with chronic illnesses.

Public health scientists at Ohio State University and other institutions are studying the various health problems climate change brings to the Great Lakes region, and they are making some fascinating discoveries along the way. This area of aims to introduce the public to their findings, provide information about upcoming public events where researchers speak about their results, and offer additional resources to those wanting to learn more about how this growing global problem is likely to affect the health of Ohio and its neighboring states.


Climate Change and Waterborne Disease Risk in the Great Lakes Region of the U.S.

This article discusses the threat of climate change increasing the rate at which pollutants enter the Great Lakes, the drinking water source for 40 million people. Global warming is expected to lead to more intense rainfall events and extreme precipitation in the Great Lakes region, which is likely to overwhelm sanitary and storm water sewer systems. The resulting flooding can lead to discharge of waterborne diseases and pollutants into the Lakes, where sewage runoff after severe rainfall can contaminate recreational waters and increase the risk of human illness through higher bacterial counts.

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Environmental Health Perspectives

This report examined the potential impact of climate change on human health in the United States as part of a congressionally mandated study. The authors determined five major areas of impact from climate change: temperature-related illness, health effects from extreme weather events, health effects from air pollution, water- and food-borne diseases, and diseases carried by non-human hosts. While no definite statements on the effects of climate change on human health could be made, the authors emphasize that continued monitoring is necessary to prevent possible adverse effects of climate change on public health.

Climate Change and Health in Ohio

This overview from Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and Global Environment provides a summary of relevant research on the public health effects of climate change on the state of Ohio. The data suggests that climate change has already made an impact on the health of Ohio’s citizens, and future developments are likely to continue taking their toll on public health in the state.

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Public Health Presentations

  • 2010-09-28
    Dr. Jonathan Patz

    University of Wisconsin
    Climate Change in the Great Lakes: Key Vulnerabilities to Public Health in the Region. Read more.