June 18, 2019

Climate change to boost health problems

Climate change: Now it’s personal.

There will be more itching, sneezing, swelling and gasping for breath as Pennsylvania’s climate shifts and residents are exposed to more poison ivy, stinging insects, pollen allergies and lyme-disease-bearing ticks, and experience increased asthma, respiratory disease and heat-related deaths.

That was the assessment of scientists and physicians at a one-day climate change conference sponsored by the Allegheny County Health Department and the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health last week.

They said a silver lining is that Pennsylvanians won’t see the worst of those negative impacts until after 2050. But the bad news, echoing the findings contained in the third U.S. National Climate Assessment released May 6, is that the changes already have begun.

And, they agreed, the negative consequences of climate change brought on by man-made emissions of greenhouse gases will worsen the longer the world waits to reduce those emissions.

Raymond Najjar, a professor of oceanography in the Meteorology Department at Penn State University and an author of the 2009 Pennsylvania Climate Impact Assessment, said the most recent assessment released three weeks ago shows “some climate change is unavoidable,” and the state will get warmer and wetter. Heavy downpours will be more intense and more frequent.

He predicted that unless Pennsylvania cuts its emissions of greenhouse gases — including nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds — to 20 percent of what they are now, the state’s summer heat index will become 8 to 10 degrees warmer by the end of this century.

Without that level of emissions cuts, the number of days the temperature tops 90 degrees Fahrenheit each year will increase from 10 to 65 and Pennsylvania’s climate will resemble what is found now in northern Alabama.

“Pennsylvania has not done enough to reduce emissions and support renewable energy sources,” said Mr. Najjar, adding that even if emissions are reduced by 80 percent, Pennsylvania likely will see summer temperatures rise by 5 degrees Fahrenheit, giving it a climate resembling that of southern Kentucky today.

City and county officials must start now to adapt policies and programs to climate-altered and expanding public health needs, said Karen Hacker, Allegheny County Health Department director.

“Infectious diseases, ticks, mosquitoes will all increase as the climate warms, as will severity and incidence of asthma, water problems and severe weather,” Dr. Hacker said. “The increases will likely be incremental, but the impacts will collectively be bigger.”

Leonard Bielory, a professor at Rutgers University where he is studying the impact of a warming climate on allergies, said globally longer pollination seasons are expected to increase the duration of exposure and also the number of individuals who develop sensitivity to it.

“Ragweed is responding to climate change on a continental basis, so we’re seeing earlier and later pollen seasons and it moves northward with warmer climate,” he said. “By 2020, we expect to see pollen increase by 20 percent in Pennsylvania, and by 2050 sensitivity to allergens could double from what it is now.”

Dr. Bielory said research shows climate change is also likely to cause an increase in dust mites, stinging insects and cockroaches. The production of poison ivy oil, which causes the itchy skin rash, will increase as carbon dioxide levels rise, weed growth will be stimulated and peanut allergies, which have doubled in each of the last several decades, will continue to increase.

Lyme disease, the most prevalent vector-borne disease in the U.S. with 30,000 diagnosed and perhaps nine times more undiagnosed cases, also is likely to increase among humans as the geographic range of the tick that causes it continues to expand, according to Dustin Brisson, an associate professor of biology at the University of Pennsylvania, whose research involves evolutionary biology, molecular genetics and microbial ecology.

Peter Adams, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, said warmer air temperatures combined with expected higher humidity “makes the atmosphere more able to do chemistry and produce compounds that could impact human health.”

One of those compounds likely to increase is ground-level ozone, the primary component of unhealthy smog. Methane emissions from increased shale gas drilling, along with nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compound emissions from drilling operations and increased truck traffic, also could rise.

“Depending on how tightly those [shale gas drilling] operations are controlled,” Mr. Adams said, “there could be significant health impacts on Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and even more significantly in the center of the state.”

Clifford Mitchell, director of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said that mitigation policies are important and the public needs to get involved to force emissions reductions, but health officials need to plan now for how a changing climate will impact local populations and communities.

“We need to help people adapt,” Dr. Mitchell said. “We’re going to be doing damage control and we need to figure out how to do that systematically.”

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.

View original post here: 

Climate change to boost health problems

Poison ivy a sticky subject

About The Tribune-Review

The Tribune-Review can be reached

via e-mail

or at 412-321-6460.

Contact Us







Jessica Walliser

The oils from poison ivy can remain potent on a tree for five years.

By Tribune-Review

Published: Friday, August 2, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

August 3, 2013

According to many of my gardening friends, this has been a particularly bad year for poison ivy. It seems that the rainy spring and summer have encouraged ample poison ivy growth and everyone is coming down with the rash. And wondering how best to get rid of the plants without resorting to nasty chemicals.

About 80 percent of the population is susceptible to the urushiol oil contained in poison-ivy plants. It is contact with this oil that causes skin to break out in a red, bumpy, itchy rash. But even if you haven’t developed a rash in the past, new exposures can always bring about an allergic reaction. In fact, repeated exposures increase the odds of susceptibility.

That’s why it’s so important to wash up with a poison-ivy soap like Tecnu or Ivy Off immediately after possible exposure to the plant, including in the winter. These products break up the urushiol and allow it to be washed off the skin readily. Urushiol residue remains potent on exposed clothing, tools, shoes and pets for several years, so carefully washing all these items is a must as well.

A rash from poison-ivy exposure initially develops right where the urushiol directly contacted the skin anywhere from a few hours to a few days after contact. The really bad news is that the poison-ivy allergen can then be carried systemically within your body, causing other areas of rash to “pop up” anywhere on your skin. It is not, however, contagious to other people who come in contact with the rash on your skin, even if it’s oozing. The initial exposure must come from direct contact with the urushiol itself.

Unfortunately, it’s possible to contract poison ivy year-round. You can contract it from exposure to the leaves for sure, but you can also get it from touching the dormant stems and even the root system. Because of this, be careful when handling firewood from trees that may have had poison-ivy vines growing up them. The vines and exposed wood remain poisonous for up five years after being cut down. Plus, the smoke produced from burning poison ivy is also dangerous; you can end up developing the rash all over your body and even in your lungs.

To successfully get rid of small- to medium-sized poison-ivy plants, dig them out. As I am highly allergic myself, I have a dedicated “poison-ivy shovel” in my shed that I only use to dig out poison-ivy plants. I wear an old raincoat and chemical-resistant gloves for the task (these too are dedicated as “poison ivy gear”). Once the plant is dug out, I put a large plastic trash bag up over my arm and then pick up the plant and flip the bag down over it, so it’s completely encased in the bag (kind of like picking up after Fido). I then tie the bag closed and throw it in the garbage.

Larger vines are a tougher issue. I have hired a landscaper to remove them for us in the past and would probably do the same again, if the need arose. You also can saw off the “trunk” of the ivy and allow the top portion to die off on it’s own (but remember, the urushiol can remain potent for up to five years). You can dig out the root or continue to regularly remove any new growth as soon as it sprouts. This will eventually serve to starve the roots of carbohydrates and kill the plant.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

Show commenting policy

Most-Read Stories

  1. Promising rookies, new work ethic reinvigorate Steelers

  2. Kovacevic: Forget PEDs and applaud Pedro

  3. Steelers notebook: Bell not grading on curve

  4. Offensive line emphasizing short-yardage success

  5. Inside the ropes: Woodson helps Jackson ‘man’ up

  6. Pirates notebook: Cole could have playoff role

  7. Burnett pitches complete game in 5-1 Pirates win

  8. Kovacevic: Clear now 2012 Steelers were fat cats

  9. Dying Jeannette boy serves as parents’ best man

  10. Report: Texas A&M QB Manziel signed for money

  11. Police seek missing Fayette County woman

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

Read More: 

Poison ivy a sticky subject

Wordpress SEO Plugin by SEOPressor