Efforts to address climate-related risks to public health and safety in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania does not have an official health department climate action plan. The Pennsylvania Department of Health (PADOH) recognizes that there are climate discussions taking place in Pennsylvania in a number of organizations. However, PADOH is not actively involved in these discussions.
The major climate impacts of concern in the state of Pennsylvania have been identified as extreme heat, drought, air quality, and inland and coastal flooding. These impacts pose threats to public health by causing heat-related death and illness, increasing the spread of vector-borne disease, influencing the amount and severity of asthma counts, and damaging capacity and access to healthcare services and infrastructure.
PADOH has not engaged in climate adaptation action or planning. However, the department does keep records on water-borne disease outbreaks, a public health concern that may be exacerbated by the increased stress of climatic events such as coastal and inland flooding. While PADOH is not actively involved in climate discussions, at the state level, Pennsylvania has taken measures to address climatic events. For example, Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources are leading the state in climate mitigation and adaptation efforts, but the integration of public health impacts into these efforts is limited.
Pennsylvania Department of Health
Until its discontinuation in 2017, PADOH had a program to track environmental public health within the state, monitoring factors such as air quality, drinking water quality, and lead poisoning in children. In 2015, the PADOH released EDDIE (Enterprise Data Dissemination Informatics Exchange) an online database for collecting health statistics that monitors similar public health concerns. While the connection to how climate change may affect these concerns is not explicit on EDDIE, these datasets could be useful for the state in monitoring health trends in light of climate change. For example, the state tracks water-borne disease outbreaks from community water systems through the PADOH Bureau of Epidemiology. Finally, the PADOH State Health Improvement Plan 2015-2020 mentions climate change as a “force of change” identified to impact the future ways in which community and public health systems operate within the state. However, exactly how climate change may impact public health in the state is not mentioned.
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
In 2018, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) released a Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Plan, calling for a review and update of preparedness plans in order to account for changing risk profiles within the state. The plan recommends actions including training staff about climate-related threats, increasing awareness of shifts in weather, and adjusting the scheduling of field seasons to minimize exposure to hazards. The plan also mentions increased monitoring and control of ticks and mosquitos that could address threats of vector-borne diseases in the state. The DCNR’s 2015 report, DCNR and Climate Change: Planning for the Future, contains a section on Employee Health and Safety, where it mentions factors such as heat-related stress, airborne allergens, and vector-borne disease as climate-related health risks.
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
In 2011, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released a report detailing that that public health and emergency management should be included in the climate action plan as key components of climate adaptation efforts in Pennsylvania’s climate change strategy. The plan states the need for proactive planning for extreme heat events, taking advantage of federal resources, and support efforts to increase data quality. The plan calls for a revision of the Pennsylvania state strategic climate change plan to include a section on public health response. The plan also suggests that the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s early warning system for heat waves should be implemented in other parts of the state to warn against extreme heat events. In order to address threats caused by flooding, the plan recommends increased actions for assessment, surveillance, response and recovery planning, and health education. The plan also calls for increased measures to prevent and control adverse health effects caused by drought conditions, increased data acquisition and quality, as well as interdisciplinary collaboration.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s 2015 Climate Change Action Plan Update stresses the impacts of extreme heat-related events on human populations in metropolitan areas as well as threats to air and water quality and vector-borne diseases. The report identifies stressors to human health caused by climatic events, but does not provide specific recommendations or action plans to address these concerns at the state level involving the PADOH.
Outcomes and Conclusions
There is still much to be done in Pennsylvania with regards to integrating climate change into public health planning. Some state agencies have taken steps to initiate these conversations.
Braddock KN. 2019. Efforts to address climate-related risks to public health and safety in Pennsylvania [Case study on a project of the Pennsylvania Departments of Health, Environmental Protection, and Conservation and Natural Resources]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: https://www.cakex.org/case-studies/efforts-address-climate-related-risks-public-health-and-safety-pennsylvania (Last updated June 2019)