By Victoria Valenzuela / Original to ScheerPost
On Monday May 22, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a press conference to address climate-related environmental hazards associated with children’s health and well-being in the US, as listed in their investigative report released last month.
Extreme heat, poor air quality, changes in seasonality, flooding and different types of infectious diseases are the five factors identified by the EPA that have resulted in nationally-scaled risks and stressors to children.
The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities in the US is from fossil fuels and causes various childhood complications, says the report. The findings, however, do not represent the impact outside the US.
The EPA reported in a press release:
Our climate is changing, and the health and well-being of children will continue to be affected in many ways. Children are uniquely vulnerable to climate change due to a variety of physical, cognitive, behavioral, and social factors. Climate change-related impacts in childhood can have lifelong consequences due to effects on learning, physical health, chronic disease, and other complications.
Children are uniquely vulnerable to climate change in part because of the natural physiology of developing and growing bodies, according to the report, leading them to experience health effects differently from adults.
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The report highlights that children of color, those from low income communities and those without health insurance are the most vulnerable to these climate change impacts, including oak pollen exposure specifically, which can lead to severe asthma and seasonal allergies. Black, Latino and low income students experience the lowest rates of current air conditioning in schools, and therefore are disproportionately likely to experience these impacts disproportionately, the report said.
Other key impacts from the report involve childhood displacement due to floods or wildfires, increase in vector-borne diseases and lower rates of academic achievement.
“A report like this is really a call to action,” Amanda Millstein, a pediatrician and co-founder of Climate Health now, said during the press conference Monday. “We know that climate change is a threat to every child alive now. The science is clear that to avert the worst impacts of climate change, we just transition away from fossil fuels.”
Millstein recognized that many children have no control over where they live or the factors that are currently affecting climate change. She encouraged caretakers to consider heat-related illnesses and interpret air quality data to determine when it is okay for children to play outside. Newborns are especially vulnerable due to their inability to thermoregulate, especially in the first few weeks of life, according to Millstein.
“I think the opportunities are endless and we all can and must take action where we are able to,” Millstein said.
Additionally, Millstein called on attendees to learn about community efforts to get involved in the fight to protect the environment, such as policies that eliminate fossil fuels. She also encouraged clinicians to educate themselves on the impact climate change has on children’s health, and to advocate for measures such as air filters, cooling centers and free evacuation kits for their patients.
“We need to get out of our exam rooms and clinics and advocate for change more broadly,” Milstein said.
Victoria Valenzuela is an investigative reporter based in California covering issues in criminal justice. She currently oversees the criminal justice coverage as a reporter at ScheerPost. She is also a fellow with the Law and Justice Journalism Project. In the past, Valenzuela has also worked with ProPublica, BuzzFeed News, and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She is completing graduate studies at the University of Southern California, where she formerly helped teach a class on the power and responsibility of the press.