Report: DC area more prepared than most states for climate change health impact

A report evaluating work underway to protect people from the health impact of climate change finds that the D.C. region is better off than most other states.

The report, called Climate Change & Health: Assessing State Preparedness, is from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and Trust for America’s Health. It assessed all 50 states and D.C.

“The effect climate change has on our health is that it turbo charges long-standing dangers,” said Matt McKillop, a senior researcher at the Trust for America’s Health.

“Climate-related events, such as hurricanes and wildfires, have obvious health impact; others are more insidious, including more frequent heat waves and deteriorating air quality, chronic flooding and waterborne disease,” he said.

One example from the report is that warmer winters and hotter, earlier summers are friendly to ticks that carry Lyme disease — helping them become active earlier and expand their range farther north.

The report evaluating vulnerability and preparedness found that D.C., Maryland and Virginia are more prepared than most other states for the public-health consequences of climate change.

As for vulnerability, D.C. and Maryland were found to be less vulnerable to the impact of climate change than most states.

“That’s taking into account both environmental factors, such as extreme heat and flooding and frequency and intensity of storms and other factors, as well as social and demographic factors,” McKillop said.

Virginia is somewhat more vulnerable, stacking up in the middle of the pack when compared to the rest of the states.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has a long record of working
toward goals that will reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Researchers emphasized that even states rated as most prepared can do more to protect people from the harmful health impact of climate change; and states need to make planning for climate change a priority across all their agencies, especially in their health departments.

Communities at higher risk include people of color, immigrants, those living in poverty, experiencing homelessness or those with preexisting medical conditions.

“Vulnerability to the health impact of climate change reflect existing health-risk factors and disparities; so in the U.S., the legacy and continuation of structural and systemic racism contribute to these disparities,” McKillop said.

Policymakers at the federal, local and state level all need to recognize that the time to act is now.

“The impacts of climate change are here now — it’s not just a future threat,” McKillop said.

The report states that since the turn of the 20th century, the average annual temperature across the contiguous U.S. has increased by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

Based on emissions from past years, it is expected temperatures will rise another 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the next few decades.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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