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March 05, 2014
Fed study on climate change and human health

The federal government has started the process of developing what is being advertised as a major report on the effects of climate change on human health in the United States.   A part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the report will be designed to inform public health officials, urban planners, decision makers, and other stakeholders at multiple levels of government, who are interested in better understanding the risks climate change presents to human health, according to the EPA.

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“Though the report will not include policy recommendations, this information may help inform adaptation decisions and other strategies in the public health arena,” says the EPA, which has published a draft prospectus on behalf of the agencies it will join in leading the project—,the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institute of Health, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  Hence, all stakeholders should, at a minimum, monitor the report’s development. 

As a federal interagency undertaking, the selection of lead authors for the report will be limited to federal employees and their contractors.  However, the agencies are also requesting public comment on the draft prospectus to inform finalization of the document. 


The prospectus states that the report will be an “evidence based quantitative assessment of observed and project climate change impacts on human health in the United States.”  The prospectus suggests that the report will go beyond generalizations and attempt to “quantify” projected national-scale impacts of climate change to human health.

“Such analyses will attempt to identify and bound impact uncertainties, as well as better define changes in attributable epidemiological risks, particularly for vulnerable populations, with the goal of informing public health authorities and other public planning and resource management entities,” states the prospectus. 

Mental health included

The draft prospectus indicates that the final report will comprise eight sections—thermal extremes, heat and cold waves, air quality impacts, vectorborne and zoonotic disease, waterborne and foodborne diseases, food safety, extreme weather and climate events, mental health and stress-related disorders, and vulnerable regions and subpopulations to health impacts of climate change.  Each of these areas will be researched in the existing science literature. 

In addition, additional modeling and/or quantitative analyses will be applied to four topics—extreme heat mortality, air quality impacts (ozone or PM-2.5), Lyme disease, and vibrio-related illness.  Vibrio is a bacterium that infects fish.

Confounding factors

The draft prospectus recognizes that the impacts of climate change on health are complex and often dependent on multiple confounding socioeconomic and environmental factors such as the ability of communities to prepare for and respond to the risks posed by climate change and the vulnerability of different populations and communities.  In this context, the methodology for developing appropriate climate and health indicators is “challenging and still emerging,” says the EPA. 

The final report will follow federal information quality, transparency, and accessibility guidelines and will undergo peer review, public review, and final interagency review, says the EPA.

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