5 ways NJ says climate change will affect our health

The first major change to New Jersey’s sweeping report on the impact of climate change focuses on the potential future health outcomes for residents statewide, officials announced Tuesday.

The roughly 200-page report, the “Scientific Report on Climate Change” released in June 2020, served as a summary of peer-reviewed research and outlined what that research meant for New Jersey specifically. This week’s 61-page addition delves into what the increase in natural disasters and severe weather due to climate change may mean for the health of residents.

“The impacts of climate change on human health and communities are anticipated to exacerbate existing environmental and public health disparities,” Judy Persichilli, the state’s health commissioner and Shawn LaTourette, commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, said in a joint letter early in the report.

Children, seniors, people with chronic health problems and those in low-income and underserved communities already facing pollution and other environmental issues will suffer the most, they added.

Dave Pringle, a spokesperson for both the non-profit Clean Water Action and a coalition of environmental groups called EmpowerNJ, told NJ Advance Media on Wednesday that while the latest study was comprehensive, more action should be taken by the state to address ongoing climate change -related issues.

“It’s great to document all of the problems from the climate emergency and it’s great the administration has made lots of announcements about plans to address it. But other than offshore wind, New Jersey at best is treading in floodwaters,” Pringle said. “The rules to significantly reduce climate emissions are at best stalled and the rules to keep people and property out of harm’s way of these climate-induced floodwaters have been totally hijacked by the road lobby, and developers that make money building homes where people drown.”

In the latest report, officials from the Department of Health and Department of Environmental Protection said “raising awareness” of the health risks linked to climate change will help New Jersey better tackle problems in the future.

Here are five interesting takeaways from the report.

1. The problem of displacement

While most of the report focuses on direct health issues that may arise in the Garden State from climate change, one “indirect” example noted was displacement.

In addition to the growing frequency of storms in the state, crumbling infrastructure linked to climate change also threatens to result in more population displacement, the report said. Officials pointed to the Lower Manhattan Climate Resilience Study and its overview of the impact of floodwaters in the region.

“Coastal cities in New Jersey like Jersey City, Atlantic City, and Newark may face similar threats, and as the climate situation worsens, destabilized buildings will necessitate community displacement. Deteriorating infrastructure may be of particular concern in overburdened communities where resources may be unavailable to rebuild,” the report released Tuesday said.

2. Heat-related issues are expected to worsen

New Jersey will likely be susceptible to longer and dryer heat in the future, according to the report.

“Mortality due to heat related deaths in warmer seasons are increasing globally, with 37% attributable to anthropogenic climate change,” the report noted. “From 2006-2010, over 3,000 deaths in the United States were attributable to excessive heat, likely an underestimation as diagnostic criteria for heat-related mortality are inconsistent.”

In the Garden State, heat-related hospital admissions between May and September increased by 156% since 2004, officials said, noting that those figures may increase.

3. Even we should be wary of wildfires

As wildfire season becomes even more unpredictable across the nation, even states like New Jersey should take heed, officials said in the report.

State officials said more wildfires are expected to take place in the western US and Canada, possibly tarnishing the air quality of New Jersey and resulting in a spike of respiratory illness, reduced visibility as well as fewer outdoor activities.

Worsening air quality could also lead to cardiovascular disease and cancers, experts added.

Last year, almost 2,000 acres of New Jersey forests were burned in roughly 1,000 wildfires, according to the report.

“While the scale of wildfires in New Jersey does not compare to regions in the western United States, a significant portion of its homes are adjacent to forested areas, making even the small fires a concern for human health and property,” officials said.

4. Climate change could lead to infectious disease uptick

Climate change may also create environmental conditions prime for infectious diseases spread by arthropods, insects, and other contaminators, the report said.

“Air-borne allergens, such as pollen and molds, are likely to cause greater allergy and asthma symptoms, and infectious diseases spread by ticks and mosquitoes, as well as microorganism contamination of food and water supplies are expected to occur more frequently,” Persichilli said in a statement. “It is important to arm ourselves with a solid scientific foundation to take steps that are important to protecting our health and mental well-being.”

Other illnesses, listed in the report, that could result from spoiled or contaminated water include acute gastrointestinal illnesses “caused by pathogens that thrive in warmer, wetter climates.”

5. More rain translates to many issues

Agricultural issues tied to increased rainfall span the gamut, including causing delays in planting, limiting where animals can roam and overly-wetting soil which risks root disease.

In New Jersey, predicted warmer and wetter winters, may also lead to more weed and pest growth, leading farmers and homeowners to apply pesticides at higher rates — thus exposing them to harmful chemicals.

“Increased soil erosion and agricultural runoff may (also) result in contaminated surface and groundwater sources posing a public health concern, as the increased manure, fertilizers, and pesticides enter local waterways,” the report says.

Later in the report, officials add that high rainfall can also move contaminates from urban areas — evidenced by contaminated soils from Superfund sites found inland following Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

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Steven Rodas may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @stevenrodasnj.

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