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Climate Change

Human Health

Adaptation Examples: Human Health

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Adaptation Examples in Health

Key Points
  • EPA released the Excessive Heat Events Guidebook to help cities plan for more frequent and severe heat waves.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched a program to help city and state health departments prepare for climate change impacts, such as increased disease outbreaks and more frequent and severe heat waves.
  • Cities are encouraging the installation of "cool roofs" that are designed to decrease cooling demands during extreme heat events and prevent power losses.

Climate change poses a threat to public health. Extreme weather events, heat waves, expanded habitats for disease transmitters, and climate-induced air and water quality degradation can impact human health, particularly in sensitive groups. For more information about the climate change impacts on health, please visit the Health Impacts section.

State and local officials across the country are collaborating with federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to support development of healthy cities that are prepared for climate change. Many ongoing adaptation efforts relate to preparing for heat waves. Specific health adaptation approaches include:

  • Monitoring emerging health risks
  • Planning urban adaptation strategies, such as planting trees to minimize heat buildup in cities and manage storm water, or promoting the use of cool roofs to reduce energy needs and improve air quality
  • Preparing emergency response plans, which include providing cooling centers for extreme heat events
  • Improving public communication during specific health risks such as extreme heat events or low air quality days

The following case studies, examples, and related links are illustrative and not intended to be comprehensive.

EPA Excessive Heat Events Guidebook helps officials prepare

In 2006, EPA developed the Excessive Heat Events Guidebook (PDF) to help cities take steps to protect sensitive populations during heat waves. The guidebook provides background information and actionable recommendations for public health and safety officials.

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Cities combat heat waves

Photograph of a young woman handing an older woman a bottle of cold water.

Residents stay out of the heat at a cooling center in Wisconsin. Source: Ready Wisconsin Exit EPA Disclaimer

As the climate warms, the frequency and severity of heat waves will likely increase. Public health officials and service providers in many cities are taking a variety of steps to reduce heat-related illnesses and deaths during heat waves. For example:

  • Philadelphia encourages residents to stay hydrated, seek air conditioning, and stay indoors on hot days to avoid exposure to poor air quality. [1] The city designated many public buildings, such as libraries, senior centers, and shopping malls, as cooling centers.
  • Chicago encourages residents to check on friends, family, and neighbors who are particularly sensitive to extreme heat.

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Public health officials prepare for new challenges

With the assistance of CDC's Climate-Ready States & Cities Initiative, cities and states are improving their ability to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to the expansion of the ranges of disease-carrying pests. Among ongoing activities, the Minnesota Department of Health (PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer is identifying populations that may be particularly sensitive to diseases not previously present in the state and is enhancing monitoring efforts in order to track these diseases. [2]  Michigan is developing communications plans such as its Michigan Climate and Health Adaptation Plan (PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer , aimed at better informing the public about the health impacts of climate change, including emerging diseases and extreme weather. [3]

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Cool roofs reduce energy demand and cool cities

Photograph of people in orange shirts painting a black roof white.

NYC °CoolRoofs installs reflective coverings that reduce the local temperatures and energy requirements for New York City buildings. Source: NYC °CoolRoofs Exit EPA Disclaimer

People living in cities are particularly susceptible to heat waves because urban infrastructure absorbs heat, making it warmer than surrounding areas. Additionally, during extreme heat events, demand for air conditioning and energy increases. This increased use of energy further reduces air quality and may lead to power outages. To combat these effects, cities and federal agencies install cool roofs, which decrease local temperatures and reduce energy demands.

  • New York City's NYC °CoolRoofs Exit EPA Disclaimer program uses building design to keep the city cooler and reduce demand for air conditioning. Since 2008, New York City Building Codes have required at least 75 percent Exit EPA Disclaimer of the roof surface of new buildings to be white-coated, or "highly reflective."
  • The U.S. Department of Energy is installing cool-roof technologies on new and retrofitted roofs.

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References

1. City of Philadelphia Public Health. Exit EPA Disclaimer Accessed 03/26/2012.

2. Minnesota Department of Health (2010). Draft Minnesota Department of Health Strategic Plan to Adapt to Climate Change (PDF). Exit EPA Disclaimer

3. Michigan Department of Community Health (2011). Michigan Climate and Health Adaptation Plan: 2010-2015 Strategic Plan . Exit EPA Disclaimer

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