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Climate change will worsen CT kids’ asthma and overall health, EPA report says

Pollen production and asthma rates are increasing with the earth's warming and the EPA has found Connecticut children could suffer some of the highest rates of asthma-related emergency department visits in the country.
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Pollen production and asthma rates are increasing with the earth's warming and the EPA has found Connecticut children could suffer some of the highest rates of asthma-related emergency department visits in the country.

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Children across Connecticut and the nation face a variety of health risks due to climate change. That’s according to a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The report maps how future generations of kids could suffer various health consequences under an array of global warming scenarios. Researchers looked at one health problem that’s already impacted generations of kids in Connecticut: asthma.

Under the report’s most severe warming scenario of 4 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels, the EPA found Connecticut kids could suffer some of the highest rates of asthma-related emergency department visits in the country.

Jeremy Martinich, who co-authored the report and is chief of the EPA’s Science and Impacts Branch, said plant growing seasons and pollen seasons will get even longer due to global warming. Air pollution also puts extra stress on children with asthma, he said.

“We know that parts of the country like Connecticut that have air quality issues today, can expect these increases in pollen from climate change to have even larger health effects on children in the future," Martinich said.

According to most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Connecticut has some ofthe highest rates of child asthma in the country. Last year there were over 65,000 pediatric asthma cases in the state, and communities of color were affected at a higher rate.

Dr. Aaron Bernstein, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital and director of Harvard’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, said pollen seasons are already longer, which poses a challenge for asthmatic young people.

“For children whose asthma is triggered by pollen – which is a good proportion of children with asthma – it's really hard to avoid pollen. It's kind of everywhere,” Bernstein said.

Observing pollen forecasts, changing clothes after going outside and getting proper medicine to combat symptoms are key, he said.

According to the CDC, emergency department visits tied to asthma attacks are highest among children under 4 years of age. The CDC also reported that about 1 in 12 kids nationwide has asthma.

The report also outlines that children in the Northeast could experience more learning loss from increasing temperatures during the school year, coupled with limited air conditioning in schools. Other findings include high Lyme disease infection rates among kids in the Northeast due to milder winters contributing to increases in deer tick populations.

“We really want to raise awareness about these real risks that children face,” said the EPA’s Martinich. “They're going to be multi-dimensional – and parents, caregivers, clinicians, pediatricians, all really play an important role in helping to care for these individuals.”

Bernstein, the pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital who was not involved with the EPA’s research, said its findings are critical.

“It helps us understand how much more we really stand to gain by getting off of fossil fuels and reducing emissions faster,” he said.

The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warned that global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by half to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid intensifying climate events.

As Connecticut Public's state government reporter, Michayla focuses on how policy decisions directly impact the state’s communities and livelihoods. She has been with Connecticut Public since February 2022, and before that was a producer and host for audio news outlets around New York state. When not on deadline, Michayla is probably outside with her rescue dog, Elphie. Thoughts? Jokes? Tips? Email msavitt@ctpublic.org.