According to physicians who have studied global warming and its potential effects, Arizona residents will experience a wide range of increased health risks. According to Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), residents of Arizona could experience increased health risks as a result of climate change. These threats are outlined in "Death by Degrees: The Health Threats of Climate Change in Arizona," a new 40-page report released today by PSR.
Arizonans are used to living with extremes in climate, with sharp differences in rainfall across the state and temperature variations sometimes changing by 50 degrees or more within a single day. However, the changes projected during the next 100 years could provide the greatest challenge yet. According to physicians who have studied global warming and its potential effects, Arizona residents will experience a wide range of increased health risks.
Higher temperatures will have an adverse effect on human health, particularly for the elderly. Arizona currently holds the unfortunate distinction of being one of two states with the highest annual age-adjusted rate for heat-related deaths. By the year 2025, Arizona's population is expected to increase between 25 and 40 percent and more than one-fifth of the population will be over the age of 65. Some experts project a rise in the heat index of 8 degrees to 15 degrees Fahrenheit during the next century. Another commonly used model projects the heat index will increase by more than 25 degrees Fahrenheit. That means, for example, a July day in Phoenix that currently reaches a heat index of 110-degrees Fahrenheit could reach a heat index of more than 135-degrees Fahrenheit.
Heavy rainfall and flooding are also projected to increase as a result of climate change. Flash floods cause the largest number of weather related deaths in the U.S. each year. Flooding is particularly dangerous in arid climates like Arizona, where a normally dry arroyo can transform to a rapidly flowing body of water in a matter of seconds. Some scientists also believe there is a link between heavy precipitation and an increase in the number of rodents carrying Hantavirus. As storm activity increases with climate change, the incidence of contaminating runoff may also increase.
There is likely to be decreased air quality in the state due to increased ozone (smog) levels, leading to more frequent and severe attacks of asthma and other respiratory problems. Ozone-related health problems already warrant high concern in the state. Maricopa County (Phoenix) had 74 "Orange Alert" days from 1997 to 1999. For the 40,000 children with asthma and 70,000 adults with asthma that live in Maricopa Country, ozone is of special concern.
"Climate change poses a serious threat to public health," said Robert K. Musil, Ph.D., MPH, Executive Director and CEO of PSR, a nonprofit organization representing 20,000 health professionals nationwide. "We hope that people will read this report, understand what is at stake, and make their concerns known to their elected leaders."
"Death by Degrees" lays out specific opportunities for personal and political actions needed to combat global warming. The Arizona report is the 11th in a planned series of 12 state specific reports in which PSR describes the effects that rising world temperatures may have on local communities. Free copies of the report are available to the public through the PSR national office (202.667.4260) or online at http://www.psr.org/arizona.