February 9, 2015
Report assesses impacts of climate change on human health in Minnesota
Minnesota Climate and Health Profile aims to help communities develop ways to adapt
Changes occurring in Minnesota’s climate will have serious consequences for human health and well-being, says a new report by the Minnesota Department of Health. The Minnesota Climate and Health Profile Report is intended to help state and local community leaders and planners, policy makers, public health professionals and the public understand climate change health impacts so they can start to develop ways to adapt.
According to the report, Minnesota has become measurably warmer, particularly in the last few decades, and precipitation patterns have become more erratic, including heavier rainfall events. Climate projections for the state indicate these trends are likely to continue well into the current century and may worsen, according to some scenarios. Based on the trends and projections made by numerous climate researchers, the Profile identified four climate hazards most likely to occur and assessed the potential health impacts on Minnesotans.
The specific hazards examined in the report were:
- air pollution (causing potential increases in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, allergies and asthma)
- extreme heat (leading to heat stress, heat stroke or organ failure; worsening of pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, kidney ailments, mental or behavioral disorders; and heat-related deaths)
- floods and drought (increasing drownings and injuries, mental stress and waterborne disease outbreaks)
- changes to Minnesota’s ecosystems (increase diseases caused by ticks and mosquitoes, such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus, and exposure to toxins from harmful algal blooms)
The Profile is the second major report completed by MDH’s Climate and Health Program since October, 2014. An earlier report, the Minnesota Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment, assessed the historic occurrence of extreme heat events, air pollution, vector-borne diseases, flooding, and drought and mapped vulnerable populations to each of the climate hazards by county.
“We now have two important tools for Minnesotans to use to help gauge the potential health impacts of climate change in their communities and develop strategies to lessen or adapt to those impacts,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Ed Ehlinger.
The two reports were funded by a $238,000 federal funds grant from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention for the purpose of conducting program activities aimed at reducing health impacts of climate change. The report was a required component of a cooperative agreement with MDH and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) known as “Building Resilience Against Climate Effects” (BRACE). The BRACE framework was developed by CDC as an approach for state and local health departments to address health-related climate impacts. The BRACE framework is a multi-step process that facilitates coordination between public health professionals, climate experts, and others to develop and implement effective climate adaptation strategies for specific state and local jurisdictions.
In addition to the Profile and Vulnerability Assessment, the MDH Climate and Health Program has accomplished several significant activities under this funding:
- Completed the Health and Climate documentary, first aired on television on TPT2 in April 2014 and rebroadcast several times throughout 2014;
- Completed the “Adapting to Climate Change in Minnesota: 2013 Report of the Interagency Climate Adaptation Team,” a collaboration between multiple state agencies;
- Planned and sponsored two conferences: Preparing Minnesota for Climate Change: A Conference on Climate Adaptation and the Workshop on Syndromic Surveillance of Health and Climate-Related Impacts;
- Presented at five international, national and state conferences and webinars on the health impacts of climate change; and
- Presented on climate change and health at multiple venues in Minnesota, including the Community Health Conference, Environmental Quality Board meetings, Metropolitan Council meetings and the Minnesota Chapter of the American Planning Association.
In the next few months, MDH staff will be traveling to each region of Minnesota to share information from the reports and to learn about adaptation efforts underway throughout the state. More information on the Profile and climate change in Minnesota can be found on the MDH website at Climate and Health.
The Profile report notes that there are some data gaps to understanding and characterizing the effects of climate change on health. For example, limited data exist to help characterize all the impacts from flooding on Minnesotans, including financial, physical, and emotional influences on health and well-being. “Although there is a lack of data on all the health impacts and the exact risk to specific communities, that lack of data should not keep us from acting,” said Kristin Raab, Climate and Health Program Coordinator for MDH.
“Climate change clearly has significant impacts on health,” Raab continued. “We want Minnesotans – individuals, communities, local public health officials, leaders and policy makers from a broad spectrum of interests and disciplines – to use the report to start talking about ways to adapt to the effects of climate change. This work can strengthen public health while also strengthening Minnesota’s infrastructure and economy.”
The two reports are among several educational and planning tools developed by MDH to help communities plan for climate change. Other resources include the Minnesota Extreme Heat Toolkit and six training modules on different climate change impacts on public health (Climate and Health Communication and Trainings). MDH also provides GIS services to local public health departments and communities to help identify populations vulnerable to climate change.