Preparing for the health impacts of climate change

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Preparing for the health impacts of climate change

Chicago Physicians for Social Responsibility and Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering today released their Climate Change and Public Action Plan for Cook County, the first step toward identifying and preparing the region for public health issues likely to arise from climate change.

“The next public health crisis in Cook County may very well be a result of climate change,” said Dr. Sarah Lovinger, Executive Director, Chicago Physicians for Social Responsibility. “This plan offers a good first step toward identifying likely public health challenges, and marks the initial development of a comprehensive preparedness plan for the Cook County public health and medical communities.”


Extreme weather events such as floods, drought, severe storms, heat waves, tornadoes, and wildfires are likely to modify natural systems, which will in turn alter the prevalence of vector-borne diseases, waterborne illnesses, and foodborne illness by changing their ability to spread. Climate change will also directly affect the incidence of allergens and air pollution-related diseases. These health crises are expected to be more prevalent as climate change continues and extreme weather events become more common.

“In our region, we have had the unfortunate experience of major heat waves associated with hundreds of deaths in recent decades,” said Dr. James Galloway, Assistant Surgeon General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Projected climate change impacts in our region include more extreme heat, with the potential for resulting increases in heat-related illness and death, especially in urban areas. Working together with EPA and other partners, we will evaluate our programs and policies for opportunities to address and minimize the effects of climate change on the environment and minimize the risk to our citizens.”

The plan focuses on five areas: extreme heat and weather; foodborne illness; vector-borne illness; water quality and quantity and waterborne diseases; and, air pollution and allergens. The report’s authors recommend a variety of strategies to mitigate the impact these five areas can have on public health, including better communication with the public about the risks and prevention of disease, improved water treatment infrastructure, and including advocates for vulnerable populations when developing emergency plans.

“This plan highlights the important link between climate change and health and offers a useful tool to public health practitioners as they develop strategies to respond to the health impacts of climate change,” said Dr. Cortland Lohff, Medical Director, Chicago Department of Public Health. “I commend the work of these students and their mentor and the support provided by the Chicago Chapter of PSR in developing this plan.”

The report was inspired, in part, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Climate-Ready States & Cities Initiative, which is helping ten states and cities across the country develop similar plans.

Chicago Physicians for Social Responsibility is dedicated to promoting a healthier Chicago and improved public health worldwide through advocacy and education about the effects of climate change, environmental toxins, and other environmental threats to human health. More at


Comments (1)

  • Perry Thomas

    Chris: I was very glad to read about this report and campaign as well as LacknerAndrews as an entity. Really smart stuff. I’ve followed and supported Physicians for Social Responsibility for a while now and also followed Bloomington, Indiana’s planning for a post fossil-fuel future. I really feel that this work you’re doing is extremely important and wanted to reach out and congratulate and encourage you. Good on you, man. It’s really nice to see someone I’ve known since second grade take on such powerfully important work. Best wishes for big results from your efforts. Also, “thank you” from an uncle newly and truly concerned about a verdant future for his most precious niece. Peace

    Jun 20, 2012

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