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PSR Testifies on Global Warming Before EPA

Posted by Barbara Gottlieb on May 21, 2009


Dr. Peter Wilk testifying before the EPA
Testifying before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PSR executive director Dr. Peter Wilk called global warming one of the “gravest threats to health and survival” facing the world today.  He spoke at a public hearing on the EPA’s proposed endangerment finding. 

The endangerment finding would recognize global warming as presenting a threat to public health and welfare, and would allow the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide emissions and five other gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect.

PSR board member Dr. Cindy Parker also presented testimony, and PSR board president Dr. Evan Kanter testified before the EPA in its west coast hearing on May 21.

Urging the EPA to adopt and act on the proposed finding, Dr. Wilk enumerated some of the health threats from global warming, including:

• Extreme heat.  Noting that heat waves are already the number one cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S., Dr. Wilk cited research estimates that, if warming is not slowed, “Chicago will experience 25 percent more frequent heat waves, while the number of annual heat wave days in Los Angeles will rise from 12 to between 44 and 95 – the upper end of this range marking a 692 percent increase.”

• Exacerbated air pollution.  “A recent study… projects that across 50 U.S. cities, the number of unsafe air days – days when ozone levels exceed the EPA’s 8-hour air quality standard – will increase by 68 percent… the number of unhealthy ‘red alert’ days (days when everyone, young and old, healthy and infirm, is advised to avoid prolonged outdoor exertion) is expected to more than double…”

• West Nile Virus:  The disease, “unseen in the U.S. as recently as 1999, has spread to 47 states as warmer winters and changing precipitation patterns allow conditions for an expansion of the mosquito population.”

• Intense precipitation and flooding:  Storms and floods can generate “agricultural runoff… metals, pesticides, pathogens, and fecal indicator bacteria.  … All of these have been linked to adverse public health effects that increase the risk of human illness.”

Dr. Wilk ended his remarks by saying, “[T]here is ample scientific evidence that greenhouse gases cause global warming, that human health and welfare is endangered, and that regulatory action is necessary to reduce by substantial amounts the emissions responsible for climate change. We call on the EPA to act now.”

PSR board member Dr. Cindy Parker added several factors to the inventory of health concerns from global warming, including:

• The danger of sea level rise, including the impossibility of evacuating such basic health infrastructure as hospitals, water and sewage facilities, and disaster response systems.
• The negative impact of global warming on food production.
• The threat to global security as environmental resources become scarce.
• The likelihood of increased incidences of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems.

Dr. Parker also participated in a related press conference where she called global warming “the biggest threat to human health of this century.” 

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