Addressing climate change and environmental health risks in Iowa
The state of Iowa does not have a formal state climate action plan, however there are efforts within the state to address the impacts of climate change on public health, the environment, and communities. These efforts primarily focus on identifying climate change impacts, acquiring data and monitoring changes, and public outreach and education. The Iowa Department of Public Health tracks public health data on climate and environmental factors. In addition, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has identified major public health risks due to climate change impacts for the state. Iowa City and non-governmental agencies, such as the Iowa Public Health Association, are also working to address public health challenges related to climate.
Climate change impacts of concern for Iowa include increased precipitation, extreme heat, climate extremes that facilitate pest distribution and reproduction, air pollution, flooding, and prolonged pollen seasons. Direct public health concerns related to these impacts involve respiratory complications due to decreased air quality, increases in infectious disease, mental stress, and a heightened prevalence of asthma and allergies.
Two now-defunct statewide entities, the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council and the Iowa Climate Change Impacts Committee, published reports detailing climate change impacts in Iowa. The Council’s 2008 report described certain components of public health in relation to costs and co-benefits of climate inaction and action. The Committee's report highlighted climate-related health issues including: (1) disease associated with extreme precipitation and rising humidity; (2) illness and death associated with extreme heat and heat waves; (3) respiratory problems related to warming temperatures and air quality; (4) allergies and pollen production; and (5) diseases transferred by food, water, and insects. These reports highlight major concerns for the state, however aside from strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, neither plan includes specific actions to address these impacts.
The Iowa Department of Public Health does not have a formal climate action plan. However, the department does have a Public Health Tracking Portal, which contains public health data on climate and environmental factors. The portal is part of the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Program, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It highlights health and environmental issues related to air quality, climate (e.g., temperature, precipitation, extreme weather), heat-related illnesses, and water quality. These indicators can be used to aid state and local partners plan and evaluate measures concerning climate change and health. The climate-related data collected in this tracking portal were obtained through the Iowa State University Climate Science Program and the Iowa Environmental Mesonet.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources identified critical climate-related public health effects in the state in its 2010 assessment, including increased stress on institutional services, increases in infectious disease transmission due to wetter and warmer climates, and increases in the prevalence and severity of asthma and allergies.
In 2014, the Iowa Public Health Association (IPHA) released a statement on climate impacts on the health of Iowans. The statement, which was signed by 180 science faculty and researchers from 38 academic institutions in Iowa, indicated that the health-related effects of extreme events (e.g., extreme heat and precipitation) were the most obvious and immediate threats to the state. The statement concluded with a call for the adoption of strong climate policies to ensure human health and well-being. In addition, IPHA has a section on its website dedicated to climate change and health, which includes a link to the National Institute of Environmental Health Services’ Climate Change and Human Health Literature Portal and resources from the American Public Health Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Iowa City released a climate adaptation plan in 2018 that details steps taken by the city to achieve a low-carbon, resilient footprint since 2005. As of 2015, the city has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 23% since 2005 with aims towards an 80% reduction by 2050. The plan includes 35 actions to achieve climate mitigation and adaptation goals, including new policies and programs, partnerships, and education and awareness efforts. Health-related actions include improving accessibility to transportation options; documenting climate-related health impacts within the city and integrating findings into city planning, asset mapping, and communications and outreach; and expanding access to local food sources through community-supported agriculture and farmers markets, primarily in low-income and food-insecure neighborhoods.
Outcomes and Conclusions
While efforts exist throughout different state, city, and non-governmental entities to present information and research on climate-related health impacts, there is limited mainstreaming of climate change into public health policies and planning. In addition, much of the available information on statewide efforts to address climate change has not been updated since the early 2010s.
Braddock KN. 2019. Addressing climate change and environmental health risks in Iowa [Case study on a project of the Iowa Department of Health, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and Iowa Public Health Association]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: https://www.cakex.org/case-studies/addressing-climate-change-and-environmental-health-risks-iowa (Last updated June 2019)