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Nurses’ Report Links Health to Climate Change

Emissions that cause climate change can also increase respiratory disease. (Hans Hansson/Flickr)
Emissions that cause climate change can also increase respiratory disease. (Hans Hansson/Flickr)
January 13, 2017

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Global climate change is having serious health effects across the country, according to a new report that says the nursing profession could be a first line of defense.

The report from the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments notes that the Earth's rising temperature means more frequent and more violent weather patterns, which are having the greatest impact on children, the elderly and the poor.

According to report co-author Katie Huffling, director of the Alliance, those health effects underscore the urgency of taking immediate steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

"Unless we take strong action right now, we're going to be seeing more asthma in kids, poor pregnancy outcomes, more people getting things like Lyme disease," she warns.

The report calls on nurses to raise public awareness of the threat climate change poses to health and to work toward reducing those impacts.

Ruth McDermott-Levy, a professor of nursing at Villanova University, says in Pennsylvania, rising temperatures combined with air pollution from the use of fossil fuels contribute to respiratory problems that can affect anyone.

"The things that cause problems with climate change cause problems with our air quality,” she explains. “So, we have high ozone days which, even if you're healthy, can irritate healthy lungs."

The report says reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants and controlling methane emissions are critical to improving air quality and slowing climate change.

Huffling points out that nurses are the largest and most trusted body of health care professionals, so they serve an important role in relaying information to their patients.

"This is a really important way for nurses to be engaged on climate change, and to translate the science of climate change into ways that the public can understand and use in their everyday lives," she states.

On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency signed an agreement with the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, creating a framework of cooperation to increase nurses' climate-related knowledge and training.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA