Backyard Talk

Climate Change: Universal Threat, Unequal Impacts

Last month, the  United States Global Change Research Program, a group made up of the United States EPA and seven other federal agencies, released the largest scientific assessment to date on the impacts of climate change on human health in the United States. The report focused on multiple impacts of climate change, including changes in severe weather events, from dangerous heat waves to hurricanes, and alterations in the spread of toxic algal blooms or waterborne diseases. climate change pic
The report predicts an increase in deaths and illness from temperature changes, effects which will fall most heavily on children, the elderly, and economically disadvantaged groups. Acute reactions from extreme heat and cold are of concern, but research also shows that temperature extremes can also worsen outcomes for a variety of chronic diseases. Climate change will also affect the levels of air pollutants, including ozone and fine particulate matter, while longer pollen seasons may result in adverse outcomes from allergies and asthma episodes. We have already seen an increase in extreme weather events, and these instances are likely to increase, resulting in compromised infrastructure and decreased access to food, water and medical care for vulnerable coastal populations.
Two chapters in the report focus on climate change impacts on the spread of disease. Climate change is likely to alter the transmission of diseases carried by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas, as seasonal temperature and precipitation patterns shift and alter the geographic range of these diseases. Water-related illnesses are also likely to increase, as temperature changes, changes in runoff patterns, and extreme weather events alter the spread of toxic agents.
Climate change is likely to affect food security on the local, regional and global levels, as carbon dioxide levels and rising temperatures alter the safety, nutrition and distribution of food, including reducing protein and essential minerals in some crop species. Increases in rates of foodborne illness and instances of chemical contamination in the food supply are also likely.
Lastly, the report focused on the impacts of climate change on mental health and well-being. They found that groups including children, the elderly, pregnant women, economically disadvantaged populations, the homeless, and first responders to weather-related disasters are most at risk for emotional and mental effects of climate change.
Climate change will affect us all, but the report summarizes several populations of concern that may be especially vulnerable to climate-related impacts. In addition to low-income populations, children, and the elderly, vulnerable populations include communities of color, immigrant groups, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and those with preexisting medical conditions. The authors wrote, “Characterizations of vulnerability should consider how populations of concern experience disproportionate, multiple and complex risks to their health and well-being in response to climate change.” With so many factors to consider, these characterizations of cumulative risk will not be easy to determine.
Though this report focused on impacts within the U.S., the consequences of climate change will fall on populations worldwide. Within our country and around the globe, we have a responsibility to prevent and adapt to as many climate-related changes as possible, because they will disproportionately impact the most vulnerable among us.
Read the Report:
USGCRP, 2016: The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. Crimmins, A., J. Balbus, J.L. Gamble, C.B. Beard, J.E. Bell, D. Dodgen, R.J. Eisen, N. Fann, M.D. Hawkins, S.C. Herring, L. Jantarasami, D.M. Mills, S. Saha, M.C. Sarofim, J. Trtanj, and L. Ziska, Eds. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, 312 pp.

Homepage News Archive

Environmental groups sue EPA, seek stricter rules over fracking waste linked to earthquakes

Brady Dennis, Washington Post. A coalition of environmental advocacy groups, including CHEJ, sued the EPA for stricter fracking waste rules. 
A collection of environmental advocacy groups on Wednesday sued the Environmental Protection Agency, saying the government has failed to adequately regulate the disposal of waste generated by oil and gas drilling.
In particular, the lawsuit seeks to force the agency to impose stricter rules on the disposal of wastewater, including that from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The wastewater is typically pumped into underground wells — a practice that has been linked to a growing number of earthquakes inOklahoma, Colorado, Ohio and other states. The groups argue that the EPA has neglected to revise its existing rules for nearly three decades, despite acknowledging in the late 1980s that stricter requirements were needed for the handling of oil and gas drilling waste.
“These rules are almost 30 years overdue,” said Adam Kron, a senior attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project, which filed the lawsuit in a D.C. federal court along with a half dozen other advocacy groups. Hesaid that despite the millions of gallons of wastewater and hundreds of tons of solid waste that a drilling well can produce each year, the EPA has kept in place vague, inadequate regulations. “It’s definitely a more waste-intensive industry than ever before. If new rules were needed in 1988, they are certainly needed now.”

In addition, the groups want the EPA to ban the practice of dumping fracking wastewater on fields and roads, where it potentially could pollute drinking water sources. They also want the agency to require that ponds and landfills where drilling and fracking waste are dumped be built to certain specifications and adequately lined to prevent leaks. The lawsuit asks the court to set strict deadlines for the EPA to adopt updated rules.
“Waste from the oil and gas industry is very often toxic and should be treated that way,” Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement Wednesday. “Right now, companies can get rid of their toxic mess in any number of dangerous ways, from spraying it on icy roads, to sending it to landfills with our everyday household trash, to injecting it underground where it can endanger drinking water and trigger earthquakes. EPA must step in and protect our communities and drinking water from the carcinogens, radioactive material and other dangerous substances that go hand-in-hand with oil and gas waste.”
Last year, the EPA concluded a years-long review of U.S. fracking operations practices, saying it had found no evidence of widespread damage to drinking water supplies. But the agency did warn about the potential for contamination from the controversial technique, which played a major role in the oil and gas production boom in the United States in recent years.
Fracking involves the injection of liquids into underground rock layers at high pressure to extract oil and gas trapped inside. But scientists also have linked the deep wastewater disposal wells associated with the practice to the startling increase in seismic activity across the central United States in recent years, particularly in Oklahoma. There, oil companies and their representatives have largely denied responsibility for the quakes, or suggested that the links are greatly exaggerated.
“It’s hard to deny that in certain geographic locations with certain geologic circumstances, we’ve had some problems with some wastewater wells,” A.J. Ferate, vice president of regulatory affairs for the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, told the Post last year. But “to make a blanket assertion that wastewater wells are always the cause, I don’t know that I can agree with that.”

According to the EPA, an estimated 2 billion gallons of wastewater are injected each day into tens of thousands of underground wells operating around the country. Most oil and gas injection wells are located in Texas, California, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

States themselves are primarily responsible for the oversight of the majority of natural gas and oil development.
An EPA spokeswoman said Wednesday the agency would not comment on pending litigation.
The groups behind the federal suit originally filed a notice of their intent to sue EPA last August, saying they would move forward unless the agency took action on the issue.
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