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Ronald Saff: Clock keeps ticking while climate keeps changing

September 21, 2012
Author: Ronald Saff, MD

Many years ago, in my medical school parasitology class, I learned about a microscopic amoeba named Naegleria. It is oval shaped, with a darkened central nucleus that looks like an eye, and it propels itself with several squiggly tails or flagella. The professor said that Naegleria prefer to live in warm lakes and rivers, and that, while infections were rare, if an infection did occur, it would almost always be fatal.

Describing Naegleria as the “brain eating amoeba” is not a hyperbole, but is, in fact, an honest description. The amoeba enters the nasal cavities through contaminated water and feeds on the brain. Although infections are rare, more deadly cases have been reported in Florida and other Southern states, where increased water temperature allows theNaegleria to thrive.

The water temperatures in Florida and other states are rising, and this is caused by global warming.

Biomass, fossil fuel and coal plants produce black carbon, which belongs to a class of air pollutants called particulate pollution. Black carbon absorbs sunlight, which warms the atmosphere and also causes asthma, heart attacks, cancer and shortened life spans.

Plants in Pensacola, Jacksonville and Tampa produce particle pollution that blows into Leon County and collects here. We don’t have the sea breezes to remove it. Because of this, Leon County has the highest level in the state. And because there is no safe level of particle pollution, we are all at risk.

Yet, despite these profound health risks to each of us, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is merrily approving permits for new biomass plants. At the same time, it is doing virtually nothing to cut down on the millions of tons of global-warming and disease-causing pollutants spewed yearly from Florida’s 12 coal-fired power plants.

Doctors and health-care professionals who are seeing the huge impact on our health are coming aboard to fight to protect our planet against further global warming. The American Medical Association encourages physicians to assist educating patients and the public on environmentally sustainable practices and to encourage physicians to work with local and state health departments to ensure that the global health effects of climate change can be responded to more efficiently.

The American Public Health Association stated that “the long-term threat of global climate change to global health is extremely serious” and “freedom from serious adverse effects of global climate change qualifies as a basic human right.”

The danger is already here, and larger nightmares loom ahead. According to a report in the Miami Herald, low-lying South Florida has the greatest number of people and places at risk from rising sea levels, and the most vulnerable areas could see flooding as early as the year 2030.

The clock is rapidly ticking toward zero on the time left to enact solutions, yet Gov. Rick Scott does not acknowledge that global warming exists and there are zero (that’s right!) global warming scientific experts working in the Florida DEP on programs to reduce the causes of climate change.

Get involved! We may still be able to save the planet.

The Citizens Climate Lobby meets the first Saturday of each month at 12:30 at the Uptown Café on Miccosukee Road. Contactcbyrd.law@gmail.com for more information.

P.S. If you use water in a neti pot as a sinus rinse, be sure to boil the water first as a precaution against getting infected with the Naegleriaparasite.

Dr. Ronald Saff is an asthma specialist in Tallahassee. He is a former environment and health writer for this newspaper, a member of the Environment and Health Section Advisory Committee of the Florida Medical Association, a member of the Physicians for Social Responsibility and a member of Citizens Climate Lobby. Contact him at ronsaff@aol.com.

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