Climate change could worsen New Jersey’s air quality, leading to more cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and cancer, especially among vulnerable populations, according to a new report from the Murphy administration.
The report is on 61 pagesaddition to a State Department of Environmental Protection 2020 study found that the effects of climate change will have a wide-ranging impact on the physical and mental health of residents, particularly those with chronic illnesses and those with low incomes.
Research cited in the latest report shows that warmer winters, longer heat waves, heavier rains, flooding along inland streams and rivers, and greater tidal flooding along the coast are projected to endanger public health and damage property, as well as undermine critical infrastructure and harm the economy.
“These important findings underscore our greatest concern about the worsening climate crisis,” Governor Phil Murphy said in a press release. “While we develop a fuller understanding of these significant impacts, we must ensure that all New Jersey residents are aware of these potential impacts and the resources needed to combat them.”
Some of these consequences have already occurred. New Jersey saw a 156% increase in hospital admissions between May and September over a 10-year period beginning in 2004, according to the report. Climate change could increase summer-related deaths, possibly doubling from the mid-20th century to the mid-21st century, the report said.
An increase in air pollution can cause an increase in chronic diseases such as asthma. In New Jersey, more than 600,000 adults and 167,000 children have asthma, with nearly 40% of the 50,000 annual emergency room visits for children related to asthma symptoms.
Climate change is expected to worsen air quality from both natural and anthropogenic sources, the report said. This is likely to lead to more respiratory illnesses among vulnerable populations, including people of color, people living in poverty, the elderly, and children.
“Airborne allergens such as pollen and mold may cause greater allergy and asthma symptoms, and infectious diseases spread by ticks and mosquitoes, as well as contamination of food and water by microorganisms, are expected to occur more frequently,” Department Commissioner of State Health Judith Persicilli said in a statement.
The report also concluded that population displacement will occur as a result of rising sea levels, increased flooding and the combined effects of climate change on mental health as people deal with the environmental and personal consequences.
Finally, climate change will act as a greater threat to environmental justice communities, exacerbating existing stressors such as air pollution while adding new threats such as infectious diseases.
Who is most at risk?
Human health impacts will be felt most acutely by high-risk groups or vulnerable communities in areas where exposure to extreme conditions such as the heat island problem occurs most frequently and which lack sufficient access to risk mitigation strategies such as financing and sustainable infrastructure.
“Increasing temperatures, more frequent intense precipitation and rising sea levels are all well-known effects of climate change that are affecting New Jersey today and will worsen in the years to come,” said DEP Commissioner Sean Latourette.
The addition of the 2020 study is expected to better inform the public about the health impacts of climate change and guide state planning and preparedness for a worsening climate crisis. It is also expected to inform the development of the national climate change resilience strategy.
The report was released at the start of Climate Week and coincided with a separate event by New Jersey’s most prominent environmental groups calling on the Biden administration to adopt tougher pollution standards to protect public health and reduce emissions that contribute to climate change.