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Oregon Counties Plan For The Health Impacts Of Climate Change

A hot street scene in Portland last summer. Multnomah County just put out its plan for adapting to some of the ways a warming climate will affect human health.

A hot street scene in Portland last summer. Multnomah County just put out its plan for adapting to some of the ways a warming climate will affect human health.

Cassandra Profita

Portland’s Multnomah County today released its plan for responding to the health impacts of climate change, joining six others in the state that have looked at what global warming trends mean for people in the Northwest.

With climate models predicting hotter summers and wetter winters across the Northwest, Multnomah County health officials are preparing for more heat-related illnesses and deaths, mosquito-borne diseases, and asthma attacks from poor air quality and longer allergy seasons.

The Multnomah County Climate Change and Public Health Preparation Plan analyzes which people in the Portland metro area are especially vulnerable to climate change, which could bring a rise in average temperatures between 3.3 degrees and 9.7 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.

“We know that people who are most vulnerable are elders, our homeless population, people of color, low-income community members,” said Kari Lyons-Eubanks, a health policy advisor for the county and one of the authors of the plan. “These are all people who don’t have the means to adapt or get out of town,” she said. “We created this plan so we could work with these communities to build on their strengths and lessen the impacts.”

Hotter days are also expected to bring more ozone, an air pollutant that is created when heat and sunlight react with other pollutants. Multnomah County health officer Justin Denny says more ozone could cause and exacerbate respiratory illnesses and trigger asthma attacks.

“When we have hotter temperatures we can see that ozone begins to form and creates a pressure-cooker atmosphere for people who are in the vicinity,” said Denny. “We really want to learn more about that because of our existing air quality in Portland right now.”

The county’s response plan suggests developing early warning systems for high heat days and issuing notifications for asthmatics to stay inside when ozone levels are high. It recommends improving communication with vulnerable communities, adding cooling centers around the city and improving green space to cool down neighborhoods known as urban heat islands,which get hotter than other parts of the city because of heat-absorbing pavement and rooftops.

Health officials in several other Oregon counties are preparing for other impacts of climate change as part of the Centers for Disease Control Climate Ready States and Cities Initiative.

Benton County in the Willamette Valley focused on the potential for heavier rain events and flooding.

Crook County in Central Oregon developed a plan preparing for the health impacts of climate change on drought and the spread communicable diseases.

Jackson County in Southern Oregon looked at the air quality impacts of wildfires, which are predicted to become more frequent and more intense under climate change scenarios.

The North Central Health District, which is made up of Wasco, Gilliam and Sherman counties, is analyzing the impacts of climate change on water quality and mental health as water becomes more scarce in agricultural communities.

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