Below, you will find detailed information, resources, and opportunities to take climate-protective action.
What’s the relationship between climate change and water-borne illnesses?
As climate change continues, water-borne illnesses are likely to become more common. That’s because climate change increases precipitation, storm surges, and sea temperatures. These environmental factors contribute to flooding and runoff that can spread sewage, chemicals and disease agents. They also favor the growth, survival and spread of bacteria, viruses and toxins created by harmful algae. As a result, more people will likely be exposed to water-borne illnesses through ingestion, inhalation and skin contact, as well as consumption of contaminated fish and shellfish.
Heavy Rainfall and Flooding can Affect Drinking Water
Climate change increases the frequency and intensity of heavy rainfall. This leads to runoff and to flooding, especially in river and coastal areas. Drinking water can be contaminated by chemicals, gasoline, coal ash, sewage and more.
- Extreme precipitation events have been linked to increased levels of pathogens in treated drinking water, and cases of gastrointestinal illness in children.
In 1993, Milwaukee experienced its heaviest rainfall in over 50 years. This led to a Cryptosporidium outbreak that accounted for 403,000 illnesses and over 50 deaths. Cryptosporidium is a parasite that infects the intestines of people and animals.
- Groundwater wells receive limited water treatment. This makes them more susceptible to water contamination from extreme precipitation events and increases the risk of waterborne illnesses in those who consume it.
In 2000, a heavy rainfall event in Walkerton, Ontario, Canada, carried agricultural runoff containing E.coli into the town’s primary water source, a shallow well. This extreme weather-related event caused 2,300 illnesses and seven deaths.
As climate change continues, the intersection of flooding and higher temperatures is likely to transport pathogens into recreational waters and foster their growth.
Fish and Shellfish Contamination
Water contamination from sewage overflows can affect seafood.
As climate change has raised sea surface temperatures and altered precipitation patterns, harmful algal blooms have become more common and expanded their geographical range. These blooms are dangerous because they produce potent toxins which can contaminate seafood.
How can I help fight climate change?
- Spread the knowledge by sharing our postcards!
- Use our postcards to query your federal, state or local government representatives: What are they doing to protect your community from the dangers to health posed by climate change?
- Climate change is accelerated by burning fossil fuels. In order to slow climate change and protect air quality, we must replace fossil fuels with renewable energy and energy efficiency.
- Join PSR’s Activist List
- U.S. Global Change Research Program (2016, April 4.) The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment
This government study documents “what we know about the impacts of climate change on public health, and the confidence with which we know it.” It examines a broad range of health impacts as they affect the health of the American people, not just in the future but right now.
- PSR: Vector-Borne and Water-Borne Disease (Fact Sheet)
- PSR: Climate and Health: Climate Change Contaminates Your Water (Fact Sheet)