Groundbreaking study quantifies health costs of climate-change related disasters in the US

Health costs exceeding $14 billion dollars, 21,000 emergency room visits, nearly 1,700 deaths, and 9,000 hospitalizations are among the staggering impacts of six climate change-related events in the United States during the last decade, according to a first-of-its-kind study published in November 2011 edition of the journal Health Affairs.

"When hits, we hear about the property damage and insurance costs. The healthcare costs never end up on the tab, but that doesn't mean they're not there," said lead author Kim Knowlton, DrPH, assistant clinical professor of at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and Senior Scientist for the Council (NRDC). "Right now, there's a gaping hole in our understanding of the health-related costs of . This report begins the work to fill that void. Only by having a clear sense of health impacts and their costs, can we work to reduce them."

The analysis spotlights cases in six specific categories in the U.S. occurring during 2002 through 2009, including: Florida hurricanes, North Dakota floods, California and wild fires, nationwide ozone air pollution, and outbreaks in Louisiana (which were tied to warmer weather and changes in precipitation patterns). The study is the first to develop a uniform method of quantifying the associated health costs for extreme weather and disease events that are expected to be exacerbated by climate change.

Researchers found that the six categories of events resulted in an estimated 1,689 , 8,992 hospitalizations, 21,113 emergency room visits, and 734,398 outpatient visits, totaling over 760,000 encounters with the health care system. Extreme climate-change related events are projected to increase in severity and frequency as climate change continues to go unchecked.

Only 13 U.S. states currently include public health measures in their climate change adaptation plans. With a better understanding of the economic impacts and health risks, as offered by the study, government agencies and key players can create effective partnerships for climate-health preparedness that aggressively limit and reduce public health damage.

"Investments in climate change mitigation at the local, state and national levels, married with analyses of the climate change health costs to inform this strategic planning, will save billions of dollars in health costs and save lives," notes Dr. Knowlton.

This week Congresswoman Lois Capps (D - CA) proposed the Climate Change Health Protection and Promotion Act. The bill would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a national strategic action plan to assist health professionals in preparing for and responding to the public health effects of climate change.

Related Stories

EPA releases report on climate change and health

date Jul 17, 2008

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a report that discusses the potential impacts of climate change on human health, human welfare, and communities in the U.S. The report, entitled "Analyses of the Effects ...

Recommended for you

Footpaths and parks support active school commute

date May 29, 2015

While it probably won't make the idea of attending school more appealing social scientists say different infrastructure and behaviour change programs are key to encouraging young people to take a more active ...

Food barometer measures a population’'s eating habits

date May 29, 2015

A survey by Taylor's-Toulouse University Centre (TTUC) is collecting data on the food habits of individuals and how their choices are related to modernisation and other social factors. Results show that almost ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.