Climate Change Poses Public Health Threat, CDC Chief Testifies
Climate changes, such as extreme heat waves, could threaten public health systems and require more preparedness in the U.S. and abroad, according to testimony delivered on Tuesday by CDC Director Julie Gerberding before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the San Jose Mercury News reports (Davies, San Jose Mercury News, 10/24).
Gerberding said that climate change "is anticipated to have a broad range of impacts on the health of Americans" (Hebert, AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/23).
However, Tennessee Health Commissioner Susan Cooper, who also testified at the hearing, said, "The impact of climate change on disease occurrence is uncertain."
Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) "hopes that such hearings will build a case for mandatory emissions controls," the Mercury News reports (San Jose Mercury News, 10/24).
Boxer at the hearing presented a CDC chart listing potential health problems that could result from a significant increase in temperature and sea level, including fatalities from heat stress and heart failure; increased injuries and deaths from severe weather such as hurricanes; respiratory problems from drought-driven air pollution; an increase in waterborne and vector borne diseases; and mental health problems. When asked about the chart, Gerberding said, "These are the potential things you can expect," adding, "In some of these areas it's not a question of if, it's a question of who, what, how and when."
According to two sources familiar with the prepared congressional testimony, the Bush administration "severely edited" Gerberding's testimony, "removing specific scientific references to potential health risks," the AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. Boxer released a statement on Tuesday night demanding that the administration "immediately release Dr. Gerberding's full, uncut statement because the public has a right to know all the facts about the serious threats posed by global warming" (AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/23).
However, a CDC official on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Gerberding's original draft of the testimony "was eviscerated" by "heavy-handed" changes by the Bush administration (Hebert, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/25).
According to White House spokesperson Dana Perino, the Office of Management and Budget removed several sections on the potential effects of global warming on U.S. residents because Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Marburger and his staff were concerned that the statements were inconsistent with information released earlier this year by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Eilperin, Washington Post, 10/25).
Sections deleted from the testimony included information on air pollution, the growth of plants that cause allergies and the creation of environments which promote water- and food-borne disease (Young/Schneider, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/25). One of the edited sections stated that many organizations are working to address climate change, but "despite this extensive activity, the public health effects of climate change remain largely unaddressed," and that the "CDC considers climate change a serious public concern."
Another deleted section read that areas in the northern U.S. "will likely bear the brunt of increases in ground-level ozone and associated airborne pollutants. Populations in mid-western and northeastern cities are expected to experience more heat-related illnesses as heat waves increase in frequency, severity and duration."
Boxer on Tuesday in a letter to Bush demanded that he release "a copy of all drafts of the CDC director's testimony sent to the Office of Management and Budget or other offices within the Executive Office of the President or other agencies," along with any comments administration officials made on the original testimony (Washington Post, 10/25). Boxer said, "I am deeply concerned that important scientific and health information was removed from the CDC Director's testimony at the last minute" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/25).