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Hurricane Underscores Climate Vulnerabilities in Eastern NC

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North Carolina's Neuse River at one of the Highway 581 crossings in Goldsboro, where the water level was already high before Hurricane Florence hit. (Robert Tucker/Flickr)
North Carolina's Neuse River at one of the Highway 581 crossings in Goldsboro, where the water level was already high before Hurricane Florence hit. (Robert Tucker/Flickr)
 By Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC, Contact
September 20, 2018

NEW BERN, N.C. — Communities in eastern North Carolina have a long road to recovery after Hurricane Florence. And scientific research indicates weather events like this weekend's intense rainfall are becoming more common, in part because of climate change - but there's a data gap in the research.

That's the premise of an article in the North Carolina Medical Journal, released Thursday. It said rural communities in the eastern part of the state also face other climate-related challenges, including access to health care and heat-related illnesses. And study author Greg Kearney, associate professor at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University’s Department of Public Health, said it's time to talk about them.

"We've been talking about climate change for years, but it seems like it's still not at the topic of conversation for a lot of folks,” Kearney said. “And the real motivation for this paper was to really put the focus on eastern North Carolina."

The medical journal issue, sponsored by Clean Air Carolina and Duke University Environmental Health Scholars Program, also included articles on the increased risk of cardiovascular disease, neuro-cognitive disorders, osteoporosis and diabetes, all related to air pollution. The researchers found only 40 percent of the medical professionals who deal with heart health report discussing the risks associated with air pollution with their patients.

Kearney said the economic challenges faced by communities in eastern North Carolina further complicate access to appropriate health care and knowledge that might help protect them from the dangers of climate change.

"Eastern North Carolina suffers from a lot of different factors than the rest of the state,” he said. “We're higher in terms of percent of poverty and the population. We have chronic health conditions that people are plagued with."

Kearney's research also pointed out that severe weather - another factor of climate change - presents a particular danger to rural communities, which sometimes lack the communication technology or power generators for medical facilities needed in weather emergencies.

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