Building awareness of climate-related health risks in Ohio
The State of Ohio does not have a state climate adaptation plan or an official Department of Health climate action plan. However, there are efforts underway to address the public health impacts of climate change in some city and county plans as well as efforts across nongovernmental organizations in the region.
The major climate impacts of concern for Ohio include extreme heat and precipitation, drought, inland flooding, threats to air quality, and harmful algal blooms. These impacts can threaten health by influencing changing patterns of infectious disease, exacerbating the occurrence and severity of asthma, and causing detrimental burdens on mental health.
In general, state-initiated actions to integrate climate change into public health planning is limited. However, some state-level programs may indirectly address climate impacts and the associated health threats through emergency preparedness and hazard mitigation planning. Some notable actions within the state include Cleveland’s and Cuyahoga County’s climate action plans and nongovernmental efforts to increase awareness of the public health risks of climate change.
The Ohio Department of Health has an office dedicated to emergency preparedness and multiple programs that may address potential public health impacts of climate change, even though climate change is not mentioned outright. For example, the department provides information on and monitors harmful algal blooms (HABs) in addition to facilitating programs for asthma awareness and infectious and zoonotic disease surveillance.
The Ohio Department of Public Safety’s State of Ohio 2011 Hazard Mitigation Plan covers issues such as drought and inland flooding in planning strategies. Human health impacts as a result of climate change or environmental factors are mentioned in a section on hazard identification and risk assessment as they relate to hazardous dam or levee classifications. Mental health, water supply and quality, and general public safety are also mentioned in the report’s mitigation strategies.
The Ohio Department of Transportation in partnership with Resource Systems Group, Inc. has developed an Infrastructure Resiliency Plan to conduct vulnerability and risk assessments of infrastructure (e.g., bridges) impacted by climate change. The plan mentions public health in regards to threats to air quality in the region.
City and County Implementation
In 2018, the City of Cleveland released a Climate Action Plan that examines climate impacts, actions needed to address these impacts, and cross-cutting priorities for the city. While public health is not one of these priorities (e.g., energy efficient and green building, clean energy, sustainable transportation, clean water and vibrant green space, and more local food and less waste), it is mentioned as a key benefit of taking climate action. Direct impacts, such as heat-related stress, greater risk of vector-borne illness, and reduced air quality in urban areas are mentioned in the plan and public health is addressed as a general cross-cutting theme across categories. Many of the plans outlined goals and actions will impact public health (e.g., sustainable transportation and access to healthcare services, updating land policy to foster health and equity, and increasing tree plantings to mitigate urban heat islands). The plan calls for the formation of a Water Quality Task Force and the development of a resident entrepreneurial network to provide healthy, local foods to citizens.
Cuyahoga County is addressing the physical and mental health of its citizens by increasing urban tree planting efforts to address heat island impacts, increasing access and availability of planning tools (emergency, vulnerability, and stormwater), and taking action through the Healthy Cleveland Initiative, a partnership of individuals, nonprofits, and businesses to make a healthier Cleveland. The county is focused on efforts to address extreme weather, air quality, and food-, vector-, and water-borne diseases. The county also has an online vulnerability assessment mapping tool and a Climate Action Plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and develop an adaptation strategy for the county. The Cuyahoga County Board of Health is also currently working on finalizing a Climate and Health Action Plan.
The Ohio Clinicians for Climate Action (OCCA) network is working with the Ohio Environmental Council in coordinating efforts to (1) raise awareness of the intersections of climate and public health policies and (2) provide Ohioans with credible and health-based perspectives on climate issues. The OCCA has partnered with Ohio Physicians Action Network and the nationwide Center for Climate Change and Health in efforts to address environmental policy and health within the state. The group has advocated for specific issues such as clean energy, drinking water quality, and protection of and access to public lands. The group provides a space for health professionals to work together, exchange knowledge, and share resources with the common goal of addressing Ohio’s climate issues. Similarly, Healthcare without Harm, an organization focused on sustainability in the health sector, is working with a network of physicians in Ohio to enhance climate and health policy advocacy efforts. The organization has a climate program aimed at positioning the health sector to be a leader in advocating for climate change action as a public health issue.
The Ohio Public Health Resiliency Coalition formed by the Ohio Public Health Association (OPHA) issued the Climate Resilience in Ohio: A Public Health Approach to Preparedness and Planning in 2017. The report details public health threats due to climate change and needs for collaboration, and emphasizes the importance of purposeful consideration of the needs of vulnerable communities. The report references the CDC’s BRACE framework as a guiding tool for incorporating social determinants of health, health equity, and vulnerability assessments into action planning.
Outcomes and Conclusions
While there is limited overall state-level action on climate change and health in Ohio, some agencies and organizations are elevating the conversation around climate-related health risks though planning, advocacy, and knowledge sharing between and among networks.
Braddock KN. 2019. Building awareness of climate-related health risks in Ohio [Case study on a project of the Ohio Department of Health and Ohio Clinicians for Climate Action]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: https://www.cakex.org/case-studies/building-awareness-climate-related-health-risks-ohio (Last updated June 2019)
Aparna Bole, Aparna.Bole@uhhospitals.org