Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Projecting Age-Stratified Risk of Exposure to Inland Flooding and Wildfire Smoke in the United States under Two Climate Scenarios

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Projecting Age-Stratified Risk of Exposure to Inland Flooding and Wildfire Smoke in the United States under Two Climate Scenarios

Article excerpt

Introduction

Human health threats from climate change are occurring both in the United States (Melillo et al. 2014; USGCRP 2016) and globally (Costello et al. 2009; Patz et al. 2014; Watts et al. 2015). The public health community consistently identifies changes in extreme events as a key driver of climate health impacts, with the majority of publications focusing on heat waves (Verner et al. 2016) and coastal storms and flooding (Bell et al. 2016). Inland flooding and wildfires are comparatively understudied in the climate impacts literature, although they have well-known direct and indirect adverse public health outcomes, including increased mortality and morbidity (Bell et al. 2016; Liu et al. 2017; Reid et al. 2016; Terti et al. 2017). Because climate change will lead to continued increases in these extreme events in the United States (Wehner et al. 2017; Bell et al. 2016), there is a need for prospective national-level analyses to better understand the spatial distribution of exposure. Such analyses should aim to dynamically assess future risk and account for change over time in climatic, socioeconomic, and demographic factors (Jurgilevich et al. 2017).

Inland flooding and wildfires each present distinct health risks, which can vary over time (i.e., before, during, or after an event) and distance from the event. Examples of flood health risks include drowning, injuries, electrocution, motor vehicle accidents, increased disease or infections from contaminated water, and mental health impacts (Bell et al. 2016; 2017). Wildfire health risks include worsened air quality from smoke exposure that can exacerbate respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, watershed changes and erosion that can degrade water quality, and mental health impacts (Bell et al. 2016; 2017).

Although any exposure to these extreme events increases a person's potential for experiencing an adverse health outcome, certain groups within exposed populations are more vulnerable because they have increased sensitivity or less adaptive capacity (or both) than others. Specifically, children and older adults are among those most vulnerable to the health effects of floods and wildfire (Al-Rousan et al. 2014; English and Richardson 2016; Gamble et al. 2016; Haq 2017; Rappold et al. 2017). Both children's and older adults' respiratory systems are more physically sensitive to particulate matter pollution from wildfire smoke, contributing to increased risk of hospitalization and, for older adults, increased risk of death (Bell et al. 2013; Delfino et al. 2009; Gamble et al. 2016; Liu et al. 2017; Perera 2017). Both children and older adults have greater risk of gastrointestinal illness and severe health outcomes from contact with contaminated water, a common result of exposure to a flood (Trtanj et al. 2016). Those [greater than or equal to] 65 y old tend to have a lower capacity to cope and prepare for impacts of extreme events than younger adults given their higher rates of chronic illness, reduced mobility, greater isolation, and less financial flexibility (English and Richardson 2016; Meyer 2017). Both the very young and older adults are also more vulnerable to extreme events because their exposure is often determined or influenced by the preparation and response of their caregivers (Gamble et al. 2016). In addition, severe extreme events or those that occur simultaneously or in succession in a given location have the potential to overwhelm the coping mechanisms of an individual or community, creating additional vulnerability (Bell et al. 2016; Ebi and Bowen 2016).

We estimated future populations within the contiguous United States (CONUS) exposed to projected changes in two inland flooding metrics and one wildfire smoke metric. We developed spatially explicit projections of exposure to inland floods and wildfire smoke by integrating data from multiple global climate models (GCMs) under two climate scenarios in the mid- (2040-2059) and late (2080-2099) 21st century with county-specific projections of U. …

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