Climate Change and Human Health

Fri, 05 Feb 2010 16:00:00 GMT

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While weather extremes, melting glaciers, and crop failures dominate the public discourse on global warming, human health risks from climate change are of growing concern to both the public and health professionals. This briefing will provide an overview of these health risks and health system responses.

  • Rita Colwell, Ph.D. Distinguished University Professor both at the University of Maryland at College Park and at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Senior Advisor and Chairman Emeritus, Canon US Life Sciences, Inc., and President and CEO of CosmosID, Inc.
  • Howard Frumkin, M.D., Dr.P.H. Special Assistant to the Director for Climate Change and Health, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Jonathan Patz, MD, MPH. Professor & Director of Global Environmental Health at the University of Wisconsin in Madison
  • Paul Higgins, Ph.D. Senior Policy Fellow, American Meteorological Society

First, Dr. Rita Colwell (University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health) will review major health threats, including heat waves, weather and hydrologic extremes, reduced air quality, rising allergen exposures, infectious diseases, reduced agricultural output, mental health consequences, and civil disruption such as population displacement. She will draw particularly on her research on infectious diseases, including both vector-borne diseases (e.g. malaria, plague, and many viral diseases) and water-borne diseases (e.g. cholera), explaining recent scientific advances in understanding the links between environmental change and disease risk.

Second, Dr. Howard Frumkin (CDC) will discuss the public health response to these threats, drawing on a framework developed at CDC and now being implemented at the Federal, state, and local levels. This response involves longstanding core public health activities, such as disease surveillance, outbreak investigations, vulnerability assessments, health communication, and preparedness planning. He will also emphasize the importance of assessing the health consequences of mitigation strategies, so decision-makers can choose the most health-protective approaches.

Finally, Dr, Jonathan Patz (University of Wisconsin) will introduce the concept of co-benefits, a key strategy in both addressing climate change and promoting health. For example, transportation strategies that reduce travel demand and favor walking, bicycling, and transit over automobiles, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote physical activity as well as improve air quality. The net result is a steep drop in cardiovascular disease, cancer, asthma and other ailments. Dr. Patz will cite recent analyses in the US suggesting that climate change mitigation could offer a substantial opportunity to improve the health of the public and save billions of dollars in healthcare costs and worker productivity.


Jonathan Patz, MD, MPH, is a Professor & Director of Global Environmental Health at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He Co-chaired the health expert panel of the US National Assessment on Climate Change and was a Convening Lead Author for the United Nations/World Bank Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. For the past 15 years, Dr. Patz has been a lead author for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (or IPCC) – the organization that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.

He is President of the International Association for Ecology and Health and co-editor of the association’s journal EcoHealth. He has written over 90 peer-reviewed papers and a textbook addressing the health effects of global environmental change. He has been invited to brief both houses of Congress, served on several scientific committees of the National Academy of Sciences, and currently serves on science advisory boards for both CDC and EPA. In addition to his sharing in the 2007 Nobel Prize, Dr. Patz received an Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellows Award in 2005, shared the Zayed International Prize for the Environment in 2006, and earned the distinction of becoming a UW-Madison Romnes Faculty Fellow in 2009.

He has earned medical board certification in both Occupational/Environmental Medicine and Family Medicine and received his medical degree from Case Western Reserve University (1987) and his Master of Public Health degree (1992) from Johns Hopkins University.

Howard Frumkin is Special Assistant to the Director for Climate Change and Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC’s Climate Change program ( works to identify and understand the adverse health impacts of climate change, ranging from heat waves to infectious diseases, and to prevent or control these impacts.

Dr. Frumkin is an internist, environmental and occupational medicine specialist, and epidemiologist. From 2005 to 2010 he directed the National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (NCEH/ATSDR) at the CDC. During his tenure NCEH/ATSDR created its Climate Change program; launched training programs for college students, doctoral students, and post-docs; expanded its Built Environment, Biomonitoring, and Environmental Health Tracking programs; and launched its National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposures. Previously, he was Professor and Chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and Professor of Medicine at Emory Medical School.

Dr. Frumkin previously served on the Board of Directors of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), where he co-chaired the Environment Committee; as president of the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics (AOEC); as chair of the Science Board of the American Public Health Association (APHA), and on the National Toxicology Program Board of Scientific Counselors. As a member of EPA’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee, he chaired the Smart Growth and Climate Change work groups. He currently serves on the Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, Research, and Medicine. In Georgia, he was a member of the state’s Hazardous Waste Management Authority, the Department of Agriculture Pesticide Advisory Committee, and the Pollution Prevention Assistance Division Partnership Program Advisory Committee, and is a graduate of the Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership. In Georgia’s Clean Air Campaign, he served on the Board and chaired the Health/Technical Committee. He was named Environmental Professional of the Year by the Georgia Environmental Council in 2004. His research interests include public health aspects of the built environment; air pollution; metal and PCB toxicity; climate change; health benefits of contact with nature; and environmental and occupational health policy, especially regarding minority communities and developing nations. He is the author or co-author of over 180 scientific journal articles and chapters, and his books include Urban Sprawl and Public Health (Island Press, 2004, co-authored with Larry Frank and Dick Jackson; named a Top Ten Book of 2005 by Planetizen, the Planning and Development Network), Emerging Illness and Society (Johns Hopkins Press, 2004, co-edited with Randall Packard, Peter Brown, and Ruth Berkelman), Environmental Health: From Global to Local (Jossey-Bass, 2005 and 2010; winner of the Association of American Publishers 2005 Award for Excellence in Professional and Scholarly Publishing in Allied/Health Sciences), Safe and Healthy School Environments (Oxford University Press, 2006, co-edited with Leslie Rubin and Robert Geller), and Green Healthcare Institutions: Health, Environment, Economics (National Academies Press, 2007, co-edited with Christine Coussens).

Dr. Frumkin received his A.B. from Brown University, his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, his M.P.H. and Dr.P.H. from Harvard, his Internal Medicine training at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Cambridge Hospital, and his Occupational Medicine training at Harvard. He is Board-certified in Internal Medicine and Occupational Medicine, and is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Collegium Ramazzini and the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.

Rita Colwell is Distinguished University Professor both at the University of Maryland at College Park and at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Senior Advisor and Chairman Emeritus, Canon US Life Sciences, Inc., and President and CEO of CosmosID, Inc. Her interests are focused on global infectious diseases, water, and health, and she is currently developing an international network to address emerging infectious diseases and water issues, including safe drinking water for both the developed and developing world.

Dr. Colwell served as the 11th Director of the National Science Foundation, 1998-2004. In her capacity as NSF Director, she served as Co-chair of the Committee on Science of the National Science and Technology Council. One of her major interests include K-12 science and mathematics education, graduate science and engineering education and the increased participation of women and minorities in science and engineering.

Dr. Colwell has held many advisory positions in the U.S. Government, nonprofit science policy organizations, and private foundations, as well as in the international scientific research community. She is a nationally-respected scientist and educator, and has authored or co-authored 17 books and more than 750 scientific publications. She produced the award-winning film, Invisible Seas, and has served on editorial boards of numerous scientific journals.

Before going to NSF, Dr. Colwell was President of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute and Professor of Microbiology and Biotechnology at the University Maryland. She was also a member of the National Science Board from 1984 to 1990.

Dr. Colwell has previously served as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the American Academy of Microbiology and also as President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Washington Academy of Sciences, the American Society for Microbiology, the Sigma Xi National Science Honorary Society, and the International Union of Microbiological Societies. Dr. Colwell is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, the Royal Society of Canada, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. She is Immediate Past-President of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

Dr. Colwell has also been awarded 54 honorary degrees from institutions of higher education, including her Alma Mater, Purdue University and is the recipient of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, bestowed by the Emperor of Japan, and the 2006 National Medal of Science awarded by the President of the United States. Dr. Colwell is an honorary member of the microbiological societies of the UK, Australia, France, Israel, Bangladesh, and the U.S. and has held several honorary professorships, including the University of Queensland, Australia. A geological site in Antarctica, Colwell Massif, has been named in recognition of her work in the polar regions.

Born in Beverly, Massachusetts, Dr. Colwell holds a B.S. in Bacteriology and an M.S. in Genetics, from Purdue University, and a Ph.D. in Oceanography from the University of Washington.


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