Harvard study looks at health cost of coal, estimates
In a groundbreaking article to be released this month in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Dr. Paul Epstein, Associate Director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, details the economic, health and environmental costs associated with each stage in the life cycle of coal – extraction, transportation, processing, and combustion. These costs, between a third to over half a trillion dollars annually, are directly passed on to the public.
In terms of human health, the report estimates $74.6 billion a year in public health burdens in Appalachian communities, with a majority of the impact resulting from increased healthcare costs, injury and death. Emissions of air pollutants account for $187.5 billion, mercury impacts are as high as $29.3 billion, and climate contributions from combustion between $61.7 and $205.8 billion. Heavy metal toxicants and carcinogens released during processing pollute water and food sources and are linked to long-term health problems. Mining, transportation, and combustion of coal contribute to poor air quality and respiratory disease, while the risky nature of mining coal results in death and injury for workers.
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What's happening in Michigan?
Last fall, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) received a three-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to prepare our state for the adverse impacts of climate change. Michigan's is one of eight states and two city health departments, selected to make sure systems and proedures are in place to protect vulnerable populations in the event of climate-related catastrophes.
More frequent extreme heat events are of particular concern for MDCH. In the last 20 years the number of days Detroit residents' swelter in temperatures exceeding 90 degrees has doubled. Projections show that these events could triple in number to about 30-50 days per year. Temperatures will likely go above 97 degrees for at least half of the 50 days. These changes likely will lead to increased heat related deaths among the elderly, the very young and those with underlying medical conditions.
To learn more about the health effects of climate change from the CDC, visit http://www.cdc.gov/climatechange/effects/default.htm
For information on MDCH project and related opportunities for funding, call their Division of Environmental Health at 1-800-648-6942.
Opportunities to Help
Health professionals are trusted messengers who can really make a difference in communicating the hazards of climate change, in advocating for mitigation to protect residents and the environment, and in urging action now to reduce health impacts. There are many opportunities to participate.
To learn more about the health effects of climate change, to get involved, or if you would be interested in participating in a Michigan chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, contact Monica Patel at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would be willing to speak at press conferences or on the radio, write opinion pieces, or testify before decision-making bodies, please click here and check the "Health Professional - Willing to Participate" box. We understand that the timing will not always work out, but if you might have some time or be interested in engaging at any level, we'd love to hear from you!
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