The U.S. healthcare system is responsible for an estimated 10% of national greenhouse gas emissions, which cause extreme weather events and contribute to worse health outcomes, according to a new report from the House Ways and Means Committee.
The healthcare system is now experiencing the damaging effects of climate-related weather events that will continue to disrupt operations and take a severe financial toll. Failing to establish the infrastructure to track and reduce health sector greenhouse gas emissions will accelerate the impact, it said.
In a survey of health systems conducted for the report, a majority of respondents (54 out of 63) said they had experienced at least one extreme weather event in the past five years. The cost of repairing damages from the event was in the millions for many respondents.
A Cook County jury on Monday awarded $363 million to a woman who alleged medical tool sterilization company Sterigenics exposed Willowbrook residents to ethylene oxide gas and gave her cancer.
It was the first of nearly 800 lawsuits against the company to go to trial.
The jury reached its verdict after a five-week trial and one day of deliberations, awarding 70-year-old Sue Kamuda $38 million in compensatory damages and $325 million in punitive damages.
The verdict exceeded the $346 million Kamuda’s lawyers sought in closing arguments Thursday against Sterigenics, its parent company, Sotera Health; and corporate predecessor Griffith Foods. The jury ruled Sterigenics should pay $220 million; Sotera, $100 million; and Griffith, $5 million.
RECOUP, a UK organization committed to securing sustainable, circular, and practical solutions for plastic resources, has released a series of reports related to recyclability and design of plastic packaging. The series includes:
Over the last 15 years, community solar in the United States has grown dramatically: Installed community solar capacity increased almost 700 percent between 2006 and 2019.
But these gains have not always translated into access for low- and moderate-income (LMI) customers. To support LMI participation in the clean energy economy and broader uptake of community solar, the development of catalytic partnerships — dynamic relationships that link utilities, non-profits, financial institutions, developers and other stakeholders to ease financial impediments — will be critical.
On the morning news, you see the weather forecast is for high heat, and there is an “excessive heat watch” for later in the week. You were hoping the weather would cool down, but yet another heat wave is threatening human health and increasing the chance of wildfires. On top of these warm days and nights, air quality data has been showing unhealthy levels of pollution.
Sound familiar? This scenario is increasingly the new normal in many parts of the world.
We examined over 1.5 million deaths from 2014 to 2020 registered in California – a state prone to summer heat waves and air pollution from wildfires – to find out.
Deaths spike when both risks are high
The number of deaths rose both on hot days and on days with high levels of fine particulate air pollution, known as PM2.5. But on days when an area was hit with a double whammy of both high heat and high air pollution, the effects were much higher than for each condition alone.
The risk of death on those extra-hot and polluted days was about three times greater than the effect of either high heat or high air pollution alone.
The more extreme the temperatures and pollution, the higher the risk. During the top 10% of hottest and most polluted days, the risk of death increased by 4% compared to days without extremes. During the top 1%, it increased by 21%; and among older adults over age 75, the risk of death increased by more than a third on those days.
Why risks are higher when both hit at once
There are several ways the combined exposure to extreme heat and particulate air pollution can harm human health.
Oxidative stress is the most common biological pathway linked with particulate air pollution and heat exposure. Oxidative stress is an imbalance between production of highly reactive molecules known as reactive oxygen species, or ROS, and the body’s ability to remove them. It’s been linked with lung diseases, among other illnesses.
Antioxidants help clean up these molecules, but particulate air pollution and heat disrupt this balance through excessive metabolic ROS production and lowered antioxidant activity.
Older adults may be more susceptible to effects of extreme heat and air pollution exposure, in part because this stress comes on top of age-related chronic health conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic lung disease. Impaired body temperature regulation in response to heat can also occur with aging. And older adults may be less mobile and therefore less able to get to cooling centers or to medical care and be less able to afford air conditioning.
A future of high temperatures and air pollution
This isn’t just a California problem. Climate change will increase exposure to high heat and air pollution in many parts of the country.
Yearly average temperatures in the U.S. are already more than 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than at the beginning of the 1900s. By the end of this century, global temperatures are on pace to be nearly 5 F (2.7 C) warmer. Dangerous extreme heat waves, currently rare, will become more common.
Further research is needed to better understand these effects, such as the full impact of wildfire smoke exposure. However, enough is known that people should take measures to reduce their risk of harm during periods of extreme heat or air pollution.
People with symptoms of heat stress, such as headache, nausea, dizziness or confusion, especially the elderly, should seek medical care.
Many county and state health departments already provide alerts about extreme heat and extreme air pollution. Developing a special category of alert during co-occurring extremes may be beneficial to public health.
Governments also need to take steps now to avoid the worst future climate change scenarios. Some best practices for cities include creating cooling shade cover and green space that will also reduce particle pollution.
This article was updated Aug. 31, 2022, with heat advisories in the West.
Located on the bank of the Sangamon River near Monticello, Illinois, sits the University of Illinois RiverLab, built to study the chemical makeup of the river—and provide insights into inland surface waters like never before.
Situated near an array of scenic woodlands, grassy fields, and farms, the RiverLab is no bigger than a shipping container, but it’s far more sophisticated. The front half is a fully functional chemistry lab to analyze the solute concentrations of the river water, and the back half is a pump and filtration system that keeps the water flowing.
The exotic Asian tiger mosquito, known to transmit diseases to humans, is more widespread in southeastern Illinois than previously realized, according to Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) researchers who conducted a study on how invasive mosquito communities form and shift because of different land uses.