U.S. Climate Policy Considers Health Effects of Climate Change, Including Occupational Health

On April 7th, the Obama administration announced a series of new initiatives which will highlight the health risks of climate change, especially for children, the elderly and the vulnerable. In the companion Climate and Health Assessment report released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, outside workers are identified as exceptionally vulnerable to heat extremes. ” Certain occupational groups that spend a great deal of time exposed to extreme temperatures such as agricultural workers, construction workers, and electricity and pipeline utility workers are at increased risk for heat-and cold-related illness, especially where jobs involve heavy exertion… Lack of heat illness prevention programs that include provisions for acclimatization was found to be a factor strongly associated with death”. The report cites numerous other reports on heat  effects, including a 2014 report from the Centers for Disease Control, “Heat Illness and Death Among Workers – United States, 2012-2013”.

Health Studies of the Oil and Gas Industry

On March 26, the government of British Columbia released the Northeast Oil and Gas Human Health Risk Assessment Studywhich includes a scientific literature review, a screening level risk assessment, a detailed human health risk assessment, a review of the current regulatory framework, and recommendations for future research and action. According to the Minister of Health, “After careful review and analysis, the study found that the risk to human health from emissions from oil and gas activities in the Northeast remains low”. The report did make 14 recommendations regarding: emergency planning; flaring, venting and fugitive emission management; hydraulic fracturing; information management; and environmental monitoring. All documentation from the study is available online.

 Of related interest, several recent U.S. studies: “Predictors of Indoor Radon Concentrations in Pennsylvania 1989-2013” appeared in Environmental Health Perspectives on April 9. Researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health measured radon levels in U.S. homes near the Marcellus shale fields since fracking began in 2004 and found higher readings of radon, compared with homes in low-activity areas. Another study, Wasting Away: Four states’ failure to manage oil and gas waste in the Marcellus and Utica Shale, conducted by Earthworks, explored  state oversight of drilling in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The article particularly focuses on the identification and handling of the potentially hazardous waste materials left behind after fracking. Finally, the Environmental Defense Fund in the U.S. has recently released the latest of 16 studies they commissioned/collaborated on regarding methane leaks in the oil and gas sector. 

Canadian Study finds no Significant Health Impacts from Wind Energy

Understanding the Evidence: Wind Turbine Noise, was published on April 9 by the Council of Canadian Academies, and concludes that the only adverse health effect of wind turbines is annoyance. From the report: “We identified 32 health issues and then analyzed the published peer reviewed studies on each problem to determine if there was evidence for a causal relationship with wind turbine noise…We can say conclusively that hearing loss is not related to wind turbine noise”. The experts also concluded that there is limited evidence for sleep disturbance, but inadequate evidence to link any of the other studied health issues.