INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosiers likely will face significant health risks in the coming decades due to higher temperatures, increased extreme weather conditions and reduce air quality, according to Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment researchers at Purdue University.
“The reality is that Indiana really has substantial health challenges,” said Paul Halverson, founding dean of the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health.
“Climate change has already impacted Indiana, bringing more intense rainfall and flooding and more heat events particularly in cities like Indianapolis,”
Halverson said. “These temperature extremes stress the ability of public health systems to support vulnerable populations including especially the elderly and children who are susceptible to various pulmonary and cardiopulmonary diseases.”
On Thursday, the Purdue-based team issued its second in a series of reports detailing the impacts of climate change on Indiana.The Purdue researchers conducted studies and compiled previous national reports to predict statewide impacts.
Among key findings:
• Injuries and deaths caused by high temperature extremes are projected to increase, perhaps doubling by mid-century. For example, 11 Indiana cities such as Terre Haute — which was included in a previous study — may see anywhere from 217
to 338 annual temperature-related deaths by the year 2050, compared to 150 in 1990.
• By mid-century, the state’s allergy season could lengthen by a month.
• Warmer temperatures and greater rainfall will provide living conditions for mosquitoes that carry disease such as Zika, malaria and dengue fever. Tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease will likely intensify.
• High temperatures and stagnant air will increase ground-level ozone production which worsens air quality.
Since 1960, the report states, Indiana’s average annual temperature has risen 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit each decade, yielding a cumulative 2°F increase to the annual average. This warming trend will continue, with average temperatures in Indiana expected to warm 5 to 6 degrees by mid-century and 6 degrees to 10 degrees by late century, depending on the amount of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.
Children, who spend more time outdoors and have bodies susceptible to heat, and the elderly, who have more chronic health issues, are at a high risk of suffering from rising temperatures, the report found. Indianapolis is projected to have 43 to 71 more temperature- related deaths annually by 2050, up from 33 per year in 1990.
Indianapolis and other cities will be particularly vulnerable to health risks since urban areas create “heat islands” that can intensify temperature and precipitation impacts, and also contain more sources of harmful ozone. Also, low-income neighborhoods are disproportionately in locations with higher environmental pollution and greater exposure to weather extremes such as having poor drainage. Poor housing quality and overcrowding increase the risk that residents will be displaced by extreme weather events, researchers noted.
The report also lists indirect impacts of climate change. For example, rainfall could increase by 6 to 8 percent by mid-century with much of it expected in spring and winter.
That can increase risks for flooding, leading to more human injuries, waterborne diseases, and difficulty in stormwater management. Warmer temperatures and increased rain increases the growth of harmful algae which can be ingested by fish and, when eaten by humans, lead to vomiting, liver damage and possibly death, the report states.
While all Indiana residents will be affected by changing climate conditions, some populations face greater risks than others, said Jeffrey Dukes, director of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center.
The researchers provide general statements concerning solutions such as short- and long-term planning, water resource development and reducing global emissions of heat-trapping gases. “But significant warming is likely even if society makes major efforts to slow climate change,” the report concludes.
Dukes said the series of reports is not aimed specifically at policymakers but also at practitioners who may have to handle such health issues as heatstroke, stress-related ailments, respiratory illnesses, housing for the elderly and health centers for low-income residents.
“We know all this in a broader context. We don’t live in a world ‘on average.’ We live here in Indiana, so what do we need to know to be ready for these changes and to minimize the problems?” Dukes said. “This report is trying to help us understand what climate change means right here in Indiana.”
Urban planning, waterway infrastructure and health care systems will need to be developed and implemented to reduce negative health effects, said the report’s lead author, Gabriel Filippelli, director of the Center for Urban Health at IUPUI.
“We are finally able to take these national scale perspectives of climate change and downscale them to the size of the state,” Filippelli said.
“The reason that’s important is that most decisions are made at the state level in terms of public health programs, in terms of infrastructure and so forth. We finally have the tools to make smart decisions as we move forward,” he said.