This post is by John Balbus, M.D., M.P.H., Chief Health Scientist at Environmental Defense Fund.
Despite EPA's refusal to formally acknowledge the danger of greenhouse gases in its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR), two recently released EPA reports detail the health dangers of greenhouse gases.
The first, a support document for the ANPR [PDF], summarizes the extensive body of science showing that global warming pollution presents a serious threat to human health and the environment. The document is labeled "draft" and stamped "do not circulate or cite", but is listed on the EPA Web site as one of the supporting documents for the released ANPR. From the Executive Summary:
Without increased investments in countermeasures, hot temperatures and extreme weather are likely to cause increased adverse health impacts from heat-related mortality, pollution, storm-related fatalities and injuries, and infectious diseases.
Declining air quality in cities is a virtual certainty due to warmer and fewer cold days and nights and/or warmer/more frequent hot days and nights over most land areas.
This study provides overwhelming support for an eventual endangerment finding during the next administration (see this Washington Post article for more on the current administration's decision not to act).
Then just last week, EPA released another comprehensive report, titled Analyses and Effects of Global Change on Human Health and Welfare and Human Systems. Commissioned by EPA, the authors come from universities, government, and environmental groups throughout the country. I was a contributor to chapter 2 – Human Health.
The report summarizes the scientific literature of the past five years, and concludes that climate change will place an additional stress on our already stretched public health system. We have the resources to protect the health of our citizens; the question is whether we will spend those resources effectively and in time.
EDF's recent report on public health preparedness (released in partnership with the National Association of County and City Health Officials and George Mason University) provides a snapshot of local health departments' level of awareness of climate change. It, too, underlines the importance of starting now to make improvements.