Climate change is a major contributing factor to increases in respiratory health problems, according to a recently released report by the National Resources Defense Council.
The updated report, Sneezing and Wheezing: How Climate Change Could Increase Ragweed Allergies, Air Pollution, and Asthma, examines carbon emission contribution to a rise in allergy and asthma rates alongside the presence of ragweed. A total of 34 out of 50 U.S. “Asthma Capitals” identified by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America are in counties where both ragweed and unhealthy ozone pollution overlap. Not only do these allergy-prone areas cause an array of health problems for more than 50 million Americans who suffer from allergies, they have implications for work and educational environments. Even for those with mild or moderate allergies, productivity is hindered by respiratory and nasal problems with an estimated 3.8 million school days missed each year due to seasonal ragweed pollen allergies. This number will rise as allergies and asthma rates tend to be higher in cities than rural areas. Furthermore, blue skies in August and September that bring peak ozone concentrations mixed with increased emissions from additional energy burden will create an even more ideal climate for ragweed pollen production.
Here is a look at where these two problems collide in the U.S.:
According to the report, currently the Top 10 Sneeziest and Wheeziest cities in the United States are Richmond, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Chattanooga, Chicago, Detroit, New Haven, Allentown, and Atlanta. These cities are areas where high burden is placed on energy production in August and September, indicating the need for energy production that will not increase emissions as population grows and worsen the problem.
Here is the list from the report of top asthma capitals that are ragweed-positive and eight-hour ozone exceedance-positive areas in the continental U.S.:
Aside from recommendations the report makes for government action to curb carbon emissions, the report highlights steps families can take to reduce exposure. Among recommendations like to avoid strenuous outdoor activity on days with high pollen exposure is to put car and home air conditioners on recirculate and keep windows and doors closed. This is where the building industry directly plays a role in allergy and asthma management.
Reduction in carbon emissions from green building practices and renewable energy sources is already important to respiratory health, but creating air-tight environments is critical to managing indoor air quality and limiting unwanted exposure to outdoor pollutants and allergens. Controlled ventilation, better insulation, and fewer air leaks are passive design strategies capable of improving respiratory health for nearly a third of the nation's population residing in allergy and asthma problem areas. Adding renewable energy sources to homes, reducing fossil fuel use, is another slow but long-term fix to growing health problems linked to climate change.
See the full report from NRDC here.