Climate and Health

Why we care…

Overall, New Hampshire has been getting warmer and wetter over the last century, and the rate of change has increased over the last four decades. Historic trends and climate model forecasts track a broad range of likely outcomes for climate change. Changes in our climate do have impacts on health.

impacts-of-climate-change

Direct and Indirect Impacts of Climate Change on Health and Wellbeing. Source: Health and Climate Change, 2015, The Lancet Commissions

Looking ahead, we can expect to see more change in temperature and precipitation: Summary of Potential Health Impacts

Health Impacts of Tropical Storm Irene

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Kerosene oil release in a Waterbury mobile home park. Source: Vermont ANR Spill Team

In late August 2011, Tropical Storm Irene pummeled the slopes and valleys of Vermont with heavy rain and wind. Rainfall totals of 3-5” were recorded throughout the state. Ten of Vermont’s 17 major river basins experienced intense flooding. Major floodwaters and debris poured through river ways and communities, from the Mad River valley south to the Deerfield River, affecting 225 municipalities.  In many areas, flood levels reached or exceeded those of the historic 1927 flood.

As is the case throughout New England, climate data show that Vermont is experiencing more extreme rain events, which is predicted to continue. The impacts of Tropical Storm Irene provide some insight surrounding such challenges to communities. Beyond the damage to roads, bridges, state facilities, and private residences, the flooding brings with it significant public health impacts.

Public health impacts of Tropical Storm Irene

  • Contamination of public water systems infiltrated by waste water
  • Destruction of public water systems and broken pipes affected public water supplies
  • Contamination of submerged wells with chemicals or pathogens
  • Exposure to hazardous waste and fuel spills
  • Injuries and drowning
  • Gastrointestinal diseases caused by viruses, bacteria and protozoa in contaminated water
  • Asthma attacks from greater amounts of pollen, dust, and mold spores in damaged housing
  • Mental health impacts related to stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, and substance abuse

Public Health Council Goals for Addressing the Health Impacts of Severe Weather

Early in 2015, the Public Health Council received funding from the Climate and Health Program of the NH Division of Public Health Services, Department of Health and Human Services, to generate an Upper Valley Climate and Health Adaptation Plan. The plan, CLIMATE+HEALTH, was published in November 2015 with help from the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission, Dartmouth-Hitchcock, and members of the Upper Valley Adaptation Workgroup. CLIMATE+HEALTH identifies increasing exposure tUVClimate-Health-Adaptation-Plan-Nov-2015o extreme heat and severe weather events as priority issues in the Upper Valley region. People involved in developing the plan also determined the elderly and lower income populations would be the most affected by a climate change-related event.

Goal: Increase community and individual resilience to the health impacts of climate change.

  • Provide effective outreach and education to increase personal and community resilience.
  • Strengthen regional partnerships and capacity for partner organizations.
  • Expand health impacts of climate change tracking data.

Key Partners Working on these Goals

Upper Valley Adaptation Workgroup

Upper Valley Adaptation Workgroup (UVAW) is a bi-state, multi-stakeholder working group of leaders and partner organizations. Started in December of 2011, the workgroup meets regularly focusing on the aim of building climate resilient communities in the Upper Valley Region of Vermont and New Hampshire.

Recent Activities

Climate Change Impacts to Health: A Community Forum
Hosted o540560303_e549e246dd_on March 30, 2016, by the Upper Valley Adaptation Workgroup, with support from the NH Charitable Foundation and assistance from the Public Health Council
Forum speaker and participant lists, presentations, and resources are available at the UVAW website. NEW — Watch the forum via video thanks to CATV and Kevin Geiger from Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission.

The Heat and Older Adults Pilot Project
The PHC partnered with Grafton County Senior Citizens Council, Plainfield Caring Neighbors, and the Upper Valley Ambulance Service to provide education, outreach, and resources to older adults who may be at risk for heat-related illness during very hot weather. Read more and download project materials.