Effects of Climate Change on Public Health

Family on trail watching for ticks

From extreme heat to insect-borne disease to floods, climate change is affecting public health risks in Massachusetts in a number of ways. 

Heat-Related Illness & Death 

Boston may experience 33 days per year that exceed 100°F by 2100. With a greater risk of heat waves and hot nights without cool relief, there will be more hospitalizations and related illnesses. Neighborhoods that have less access to places to keep cool are particularly vulnerable, as are people aged 65 or over. 

Lightning storm © Pete Sutton
© Pete Sutton

Danger From Storms & Flooding 

Storms are becoming more frequent and more severe in the Northeastern U.S. Sea levels are rising, and the risk of flooding both inland and along the coast is increasing. Aside from the direct risk of weather on traffic conditions and damage to property, there is risk of toxic mold and contaminated homes after waters recede.

We can, however, drastically reduce vulnerabilities to storms and flooding in our communities with sustainable design. Learn More >

Insect-Borne Diseases 

deer tick © Scott Bauer, wikicommons
deer tick © Scott Bauer, wikicommons

Lyme disease, West Nile virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and Zika are all insect-borne diseases that are occurring more frequently in the United State in recent years. Many factors influence their spread and rate of infection, but in general, warmer temperatures and changing precipitation patterns are allowing them to spread to areas where they have not been found historically.

Reducing Insect-Borne Disease Risk 

By using Low-Impact Design (LID), we can reduce the risk of mosquito borne diseases through good land management. Stormwater systems that allow water to be quickly absorbed by plants and soils are especially effective since they don't create standing water mosquito habitat as traditional systems do. 

Allergies & Pollen 

The growing season in Massachusetts is approximately 10 days longer that it was before 1960. The ragweed pollen season has increased as well, potentially prolonging allergy symptoms for many people.

Waterborne Disease & Algal Blooms

Toxic algal blooms present serious dangers to humans, fish, and wildlife and increase costs for our communities. Warmer, longer summers, increased runoff from more extreme precipitation, and an abundance of nutrients create conditions that increase the risk of harmful algal blooms.

The good news is that there is much we can do to reduce nutrient loading and runoff. Learn More >

Poison Ivy

With warmer temperatures and a longer growing season, poison ivy is becoming more abundant in many northern states. Rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are also making the plant produce more of the rash-causing oil, urushiol, and oil produced can be more toxic. 

Prevention is key, so make sure you know how to identify poison ivy, avoid exposure, and what to do to prevent an itchy rash. Learn More >