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Emergency Nurses Seeing More Health Issues Linked To Climate Change

Reid Frazier
StateImpact Pennsylvania
U.S. Steel's Clairton Coke Works, near Pittsburgh, Pa., is Allegheny County’s largest source or particulate pollution.";

A litany of health issues is arising as weather and temperatures become more severe, said emergency nursing experts at the national Emergency Nurses Association conference in Pittsburgh last week.

High on this list are illnesses related to poor air quality.

Much of the damage is caused by microscopic particulates in the air, comprised of pollen, dust, smog and liquid.

Jessica Castner of Buffalo, N.Y., a fellow with the Emergency Nurses Association, said particulate matter is especially an issue in western Pennsylvania, partly because of coal-fired power plants.

“The cleaner the air you breathe, the overall healthier your immune system is,” she said. “In particular ... cardiac and respiratory disease [are] where the higher risks are.”

On days with poor air quality alerts, Castner said nurses should counsel patients with respiratory issues to stay inside.

“For a lot of people with asthma,” Castner said, “you unfortunately end up, pragmatically, being their primary care and their health safety net.”

Another concern is heat, which puts people at risk for kidney failure and other organ damage. Robert Fine, a retired emergency medicine nurse who lives near Boston, said this is especially true for people who work outside preforming physically taxing jobs.

“Among farm workers, who are largely impoverished and low paid, they work out in the field,” said Fine. “The heat is getting more intense and because of the dehydration they suffer, they're developing chronic renal failure at young ages."

Fine said medically frail individuals, the elderly and young children are also at high risk if they aren't in air conditioned enviorments.

"Your brain, your lungs, your heart cannot function essentially at a temperature that's cooking them," he said. 

Fine and Castner also discussed how vector-borne diseases, which are carried by insects, are expanding to new areas due to changes in seasonal weather patterns. The Allegheny County Health Department announced last week the third case of West Nile Virus in 2018.

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