A review of studies projecting the impact of climate change on air quality, including effects on morbidity and mortality, indicates that adverse health effects will likely rise with changes in pollutant creation, transport, dispersion, and deposition. However, reducing greenhouse gas emissions could go far in mitigating adverse effects.
Worldwide, 800,000 deaths and 7.9 million disability-adjusted life-years lost from respiratory problems, lung disease, and cancer were attributed to urban air pollution in 2000, according to the World Health Organization.
Ground-level ozone is a known pulmonary irritant that affects the respiratory mucous membranes, other lung tissues, and respiratory function. Exposure to elevated concentrations of ozone is associated with increased hospital admissions for pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, allergic rhinitis, and other respiratory diseases, and with premature mortality.
“Projections suggest that climate change will increase concentrations of tropospheric ozone, at least in high-income countries when precursor emissions are held constant, which would increase morbidity and mortality,” wrote authors Kristie L. Ebi and Glenn McGregor. "The potential impacts of climate change on ozone concentrations have not been projected for low-income countries, many of which currently have significantly higher ozone exposures."
Additional research is needed to better project the health impacts of changing concentrations of ozone due to climate change. Sources of uncertainty include the projected degree of future climate change, the impact of future emissions and their pathways, potential changing weather patterns, the severity of episodes of poor air quality, and changes in population vulnerability.
These findings appear in the November 2008 issue of the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP).
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