The Heat Is On

ALBANY, N. Y. (Dec. 2, 2016) — Feeling under the weather? Some believe that extreme climate changes are a catalyst for negative long-term health issues for populations across the globe.

Approximately 40 faculty researchers from the University’s School of Public Health (SPH), the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences (DAES), the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center (ASRC), and the Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center, as well as a number of UAlbany students convened Wednesday, Nov. 30, to examine the matter.

“There is little doubt that climate change is real and that human activity plays a significant role in this phenomenon,” said SPH Dean Phillip Nasca. “However, there is a critical need to conduct research that links climate change issues such as severe weather events, rising sea levels and environmental degradation with issues such as food shortages, the increasing spread of vector-borne diseases and possible political unrest and violence.”

The gathering was the inaugural research symposium for the University’s new Institute for Climate, Environment and Human Health (ICEHH), designed to bring together experts from DAES, ASRC, the Wadsworth Laboratory and SPH to conduct the necessary interdisciplinary research aimed at assessing the current and future human health effects of climate change.

The Institute efforts are being led by SPH Dean Philip Nasca; Chris Walcek, ASRC senior research scientist; Shao Lin, professor of environmental health sciences and associate director of Global Health Research; and John Justino, clinical associate professor of health policy and the director for the Center for Global Health.

George Luber, chief of the Climate and Health Program in the Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects at the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave an enlightening keynote presentation outlining the health consequences of a changing climate.

Luber believes the three key threats on public health from environmental changes include:

  • “Disaster within a disaster” which increases the probability of complex emergencies where multiple system failures can occur exceeding our response capacity;
  • Cumulative outcomes caused by small, low-grade increases in health conditions due to climate issues such as pollution; and
  • Novel surprises with large-range effects such as harmful algal blooms and allergens, a rise in the incidence of Lyme disease, food insecurity and increased mental health disorders.

A number of University researchers gave individual updates on project work currently being done in these areas. In the afternoon, collaborative research working groups focused on learning about available data sources and discussed approaches to translating research findings into effective population-based intervention and sustainability programs.

“We have incredible depth at this University in these critical areas of study,” said Division for Research Vice President James Dias. “But we need to be intentional about finding resources to leverage this expertise and we know a cross-disciplinary approach is key to our success.”

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