King County is not sitting down on the issue of how climate change affects health on a local level. During a meeting of the county’s Board of Health, public health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin recently presented their findings on the issue and how the local government plans to address it.
According to Duchin, an estimated 1,100 people die annually in Washington due to outdoor air pollution. Just last year, Seattle was said to have some of the most polluted outdoor air in the world. And during wildfires, the city’s air was even worse than the air in notoriously polluted Beijing. “The health impacts of climate change are considered a health emergency, and yet greenhouse gas emissions are rapidly rising,” explained Duchin.
Currently, King County is working with a climate action plan which was adopted back in 2015. Since the meeting, however, the county has announced plans to start developing a five-year action plan. This new blueprint will be aimed at protecting low-income households and minority communities from the devastating health-related effects of climate change. A big part of this plan will be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, one of the biggest causes of climate change and global warming.
Experts note how the increasing heat and pollution can make heart and liver conditions much worse. In fact, King County hospitals have linked the increased heat to a rise in the number of admissions as well as higher mortality rates. Furthermore, as climate change prompts the seasons to grow longer, the amount of pollen will be much worse too — not to mention the fact that dirty air causes plants to release more pollen. There’s also the matter of new diseases in the air, spreading wherever the dust and wind take them.
In an interview with Seattle Weekly, King County climate change engagement specialist Jamie Stroble explains that these problems are even worse for families already struggling to survive. Stroble calls climate change a threat multiplier in that it exacerbates existing inequalities. Compared to affluent residents of the state, communities of color, low-income households, and immigrants are already and will be much less able to stay healthy in the face of climate change.
These inequities can manifest in a variety of health threats, including but not limited to not being able to afford particle-filtering masks, or having decreased access to healthy food. The latter can be particularly damaging considering how food quality and nutrition affects our ability to fight off diseases and allergies. In an article by Parsley Health on ‘Natural Allergy Remedies to Keep You Sniffle-Free This Spring’, Dr. Tiffany Lester notes how 80% of the human body’s immune system resides in the gut. Recalling how she saw allergies disappear after addressing gut health-related issues, Dr. Lester says that the way we eat is one of the biggest factors in whether we can resist diseases, allergies, and other complications.
For now, apart from the fact that the county aims to reduce emissions, the specifics of King County’s five-year plan remain unclear. However, the government seems to be moving in the right direction in terms of addressing health concerns due to man-made changes in the environment. Apart from this new and still developing climate and health action plan, The Washington State Board of Health recently elected to ban flavored vaping products. This was after vaping was linked to several lung cases across the nation. We can only hope that King County continues to enact policies not just to promote health, but also to protect its most vulnerable residents.