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Climate Change Increases Storm Severity and Toxic Chemical Hazards

(Beyond Pesticides, November 13, 2013) As the world sheds tears from reading the reports of human suffering and looks on in horror at the pictures of devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan, the debate of whether increased occurrences of super-storms like Haiyan are just over the horizon because of man-made climate change have also taken up residence in the headlines. Coupled by coverage of the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the leak of a draft summary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report on the impacts of global warming, the world is clearly paying attention.

As the wide array of demonstrated effects and impacts of climate change are discussed on the world stage and world leaders attempt, once again, to create a meaningful plan to mitigate risks and even potentially avoid some of the most extreme threats, an important and even more deadly consequence of climate change lurks in the background: increased toxic chemical exposure.

In a collection of studies and scientific reviews released earlier this year in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, scientists investigated a wide range of global climate change issues and toxicological impacts on the environment and health and the findings raise some serious questions and concerns.

One study, The toxicology of climate change: Environmental contaminants in a warming world, highlighted how global warming may affect the movement and levels of chemicals, such as organochlorine pesticides (common ones includes DDT, DDE, hexachlorobenzene (HCB)) in the environment. The study also evaluated how a changing climate might weaken the ability of animals and humans to tolerate those chemicals.

Another study, Combined and interactive effects of global climate change and toxicants on populations and communities, posited that the opposite problem could occur. As chemical exposures climb, sensitive populations of animals and humans alike (such as a polar bears or human babies) could experience reduced ability to handle extreme temperatures, severe storms, lack of food, or other hazards of climate change. Thus, when future Typhoon Haiyans, food shortages, and rising temperatures connected to climate change do occur, the ability to adapt and survive, will potentially be impaired, increasing hardship and fatalities.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Michael Hooper, Ph.D., a research biologist at U.S. Geological Survey’s Columbia Environmental Research Center in Missouri and one of the scientists involved in the studies, notes, “Climate change could also make these compounds available in a more toxic form, for a longer period of time or at a higher concentration in the body.” The connection between climate change and increased toxic chemical risks is not a new concept, but Dr. Hooper added in his discussion with the Huffington Post, “This stuff is just starting to get some traction.”

Indeed, the Stockholm Convention, an international treaty established in 2001 to eliminate or reduce the release of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) into the environment, adopted new guidance in October. The guidance outlined the need to account for climate change in its work and is based on the group’s 2011 review of global warming’s effects on the dynamics and toxicity of POPs. POPs are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological, and photolytic processes. Because of this, they have been observed to persist in the environment, are capable of long-range transport, bioaccumulate in human and animal tissue, and biomagnify in food chains.

While many of the POPs and organochlorine pesticides that pose the greatest concerns have been banned from use for decades, both at the international and national levels, additional quantities are still being added in some places, previous uses of these chemicals continue to threaten both human and animal populations, and chemicals with similar persistent qualities enter the environment daily.

It isn’t one or the other.

Environmental groups often face a conundrum between advocating for carbon-reduction strategies to address climate change and advocating for stricter safeguards against chemicals in our foods, bodies, and the environment. When it comes to pesticides, the lines become even more blurred as human health advocates seek to advance effective ways to protect human populations in developing regions from insect-borne diseases like malaria (which are also predicted to increase with climate change) and reduce exposure to the dangerous effects of pesticides.

The emerging connection between increased toxic chemical exposure and risks associated with climate change point to the undeniable fact that it isn’t a case of choosing one disaster or the other—they are one in the same. Toxic chemicals will only make events like Typhoon Haiyan worse and increase the odds of additional sickness and destruction as the effects of climate change proceed.

Beyond Pesticides advocates for solutions that look to the future impacts of chemical use on both the environment and human health and that offer sustainable solutions that address the conditions that give rise to insect and pest control problems.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: Huffington Post


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