Air Quality

Weather and climate changes can affect the mix and level of contaminants in the air. This has important consequences for health, according to a growing body of research showing associations between poor air quality and adverse health effects. In particular, cardiovascular conditions such as cardiac arrhythmia, and respiratory conditions, such as asthma, have been associated with poor air quality. For asthma, temperature increases can affect the levels of aeroal-lergens, such as pollen and mold, which can exacerbate symptoms in allergy and asthma sufferers. The combination of heat and urban pollutants interact to form the urban heat island effect. This refers to the increase in temperatures in urban areas, compared to surrounding rural areas, as a result of less tree coverage, and more use of heat-absorbing materials, such as rooftops and roadways in urban areas. Increases in temperature cause an increase in ground level ozone, a principal component of urban smog.

Atlanta, Georgia is a comparatively well-studied example of a large urban area affected by ground-level ozone and smog pollution. The increases in conges tion, vehicle traffic, drought, and development of the built environment over the past several decades have interacted to increase temperatures, ozone, and smog in the city. In the summer months, Atlanta often exceeds air quality standards for ozone and particulate matter set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division reports daily air quality levels in metro Atlanta and issues Smog Alert warnings for days when measured pollutants are projected to exceed a certain level. The purpose of alerts is to warn people with respiratory conditions and other vulnerabilities to limit exposure. In 2006, metropolitan Atlanta was issued 42 smog alert days, as well as 236 days of moderate-risk air pollution warnings for vulnerable groups.

adaptation and mitigation

Although it is difficult to determine the extent of the health impacts of global warming and climate change, both currently and in the future, there are several adaptation and mitigation measures that can be taken to lessen potential impacts. On the adaptation side, these include improved design of homes, buildings, and other land and water structures to withstand extreme weather events. In some cases, relocation of populations away from low-lying flood plains and other geographic areas that are especially susceptible to extreme weather events should also be considered.

On the mitigation side, more health studies are needed for a better understanding of the health impacts of global warming and climate change. Although research on health effects has increased in the 21st century, very little is known about the contribution to global warming and climate change to ill health beyond immediate and observable impacts. A related need is for better disease and environmental surveillance data on an ongoing basis, particularly in developing countries. Many developing countries lack even basic environmental-monitoring capabilities or disease-tracking systems. Another need is for the implementation or improvement of disaster response planning, including educational intervention and outreach. Each of these efforts requires financial resources. Finally, research and innovation on ways to reduce the human contributions to global warming will play an important role in adaptation and mitigation strategies. A notable area is the reduction of fossil fuel use and increasing the availability and use of renewable energy technologies. The relationship between the human population and the environment is dynamic, so if there is a change in the environment, it will require an adaptation across a broad and diverse range of resources and local and environmental challenges.

sEE ALso: Diseases; Impacts of Global Warming; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Pew Center for Global Climate Change; Pollution, Air; Preparedness; Rain; Social Ecology; Ultraviolet Radiation; Weather; World Health Organization.

BIBLIoGRAPHY. J.M. Balbus and M.L. Wilson, Human Health & Global Climate Change: A Review of Potential Impacts in the United States (Pew Center on Global Climate Change, 2000); A. Haines, et al., "Climate Change and Human Health: Impacts, Vulnerability, and Mitigation," Lancet (v.367, 2006); A.J. McMichael, R.E. Woodruff, and Simon Hales, "Climate Change and Human Health: Present and Future Risks," Lancet (v.367, 2006); J.A. Patz and S.H. Olson, "Climate Change and Health: Global to Local Influences on Disease Risk," Annals of Tropical Medicine & Parasitology (v.100/5-6, 2006); World Health Organization, Climate Change and Human Health: Risks and Responses (WHO, 2003).

Amber Sinclair University of Georgia

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