Following the release of national reports on climate change, Allegheny County Health Department officials are examining how best to prepare for the changes they say are imminent over the coming decades.
“It’s going to change the air pollution levels, it’s going to change the pollen levels, it’s going to change insects, it’s going to change water quality,” said Jayme Graham, Air Quality Program manager at ACHD. “What do we need to know about that, and what do we need to start preparing for that?”
Speakers at a half-day conference outlined how climate change has affected the state and region, and showed graphs of how it could possibly affect the climate in the future. For example, higher humidity levels could lead to more dust mites and other insects that can trigger allergies; precipitation may become more intense, affecting sewage overflows into the rivers; and the distribution of infectious diseases could shift. The purpose of this conference was to start a conversation on how to be prepared for any health risks that may arise.
“Some of it might be increased pesticide control," Graham said. "Lyme Disease may be increasing, so we need to watch for that an maybe protect for that. West Nile virus — we have to up our work against the mosquitoes that carry it — things like that, what do we do to make sure we minimize the effects.”
Dr. Joylette Portlock, moderator of the conference and county health board member, said the hope is that this will be an ongoing conversation, “or something that we can come back to, incorporate into our planning as we move forward through a lot of the future discussions on the subject.”
Portlock said it will be critical to ensure that as long-term climate changes occur, public health is protected.
“Really a very important aspect of dealing with climate change is simply adapting to it,” said Dr. Raymond Najjar, with Penn State. Najjar outlined climate projections for Pennsylvania, which show the state could get warmer, have more precipitation in the form of rain, and that precipitation could be more intense.
Regardless of efforts to mitigate effects of climate change, several of the speakers said the course has been set and changes are inevitable, it will just be a matter of how severe the changes are in the future.