An unhealthy ozone and ragweed pollen may be worsened by our changing climate, according to the report, “Sneezing and Wheezing” a 2015 update published by the National Resources Defense Council. It is bad news for the millions of Americans who suffer from asthma and allergies. The report states 109 million Americans are at risk with one in three living in the “sneeziest and wheeziest” cities and regions that can worsen symptoms.
The report is among the first to look at the ragweed prevalence and high ozone smog combination. “2014 was the hottest year on Earth since record keeping began in 1880, and ten of the previous warmest years on record occurred since 2001,” researchers wrote. “The scientific consensus is that climate change is the driving force behind these rising temperatures.”
A changing climate could favor ozone smog formation in certain areas while increasing the production of pollen like the type released by the ragweed plant. Ragweed is the principal source of pollen associated with allergic rhinitis, authors stated.
Studies show that those exposed to both ragweed allergens and an unhealthy ozone are likely to become more ill than people exposed to just one or the other. Negative health effects are expected to worsen if carbon dioxide concentrations continue to rise and climate change continues unchecked, according to the report.
An estimated 50 million Americans today have some type of nasal allergy, the NRDC report noted. In 2012, an estimated 7.5% of adults and 9% of children were diagnosed with seasonal allergic rhinitis (or hay fever), with symptoms of inflammation, irritation of the nose, sinuses, throat, eyes, and ears and sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes. The number of Americans who have asthma has risen by 6 million from 2000 to 2010.
Allergies can affect health as well as educational and business productivity. Researchers estimated more than 3.8 million work and school days missed each year due to seasonal ragweed pollen allergies.
The U.S. EPA should slash carbon pollution from power plants, researchers stated. Pollutants that form health-harming ozone smog are emitted from the same fossil fuel burning that produces heat-trapping carbon pollution, according to the report.
Places that are vulnerable due to the smog/pollen combination are the Los Angeles Basin, the St. Louis area, Great Lakes region, mid-Atlantic, and Northeast, the report shows. The top six at-risk cities are Richmond, Va.; Memphis, Tenn.; Oklahoma City; Philadelphia; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Chicago.
“Americans deserve to breathe clean air, but today millions of us are sneezing and wheezing from allergies and asthma worsened by climate change-fueled ragweed pollen and ozone smog pollution,” Juan Declet-Barreto, the primary author of the NRDC report, stated in a press release. “This double-whammy health threat will only intensify, and affect more people, if we don’t take steps to reduce climate change now. For our health and future, the EPA should strengthen the health standard for ozone pollution and set strong limits on power plant carbon pollution.”
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