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Environ Health Perspect. 2001 May;109 Suppl 2:199-209.

The potential impacts of climate variability and change on air pollution-related health effects in the United States.

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Department of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Hygiene and Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.


Climate change may affect exposures to air pollutants by affecting weather, anthropogenic emissions, and biogenic emissions and by changing the distribution and types of airborne allergens. Local temperature, precipitation, clouds, atmospheric water vapor, wind speed, and wind direction influence atmospheric chemical processes, and interactions occur between local and global-scale environments. If the climate becomes warmer and more variable, air quality is likely to be affected. However, the specific types of change (i.e., local, regional, or global), the direction of change in a particular location (i.e., positive or negative), and the magnitude of change in air quality that may be attributable to climate change are a matter of speculation, based on extrapolating present understanding to future scenarios. There is already extensive evidence on the health effects of air pollution. Ground-level ozone can exacerbate chronic respiratory diseases and cause short-term reductions in lung function. Exposure to particulate matter can aggravate chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, alter host defenses, damage lung tissue, lead to premature death, and possibly contribute to cancer. Health effects of exposures to carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide can include reduced work capacity, aggravation of existing cardiovascular diseases, effects on pulmonary function, respiratory illnesses, lung irritation, and alterations in the lung's defense systems. Adaptations to climate change should include ensuring responsiveness of air quality protection programs to changing pollution levels. Research needs include basic atmospheric science work on the association between weather and air pollutants; improving air pollution models and their linkage with climate change scenarios; and closing gaps in the understanding of exposure patterns and health effects.

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