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Climate Change

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California Environmental Health Tracking Program

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Last Edited: 4/15/2014

Air Quality and Climate Change

Climate change and air pollution are closely linked.  Air pollution from human activities contributes to climate change, and the resulting increases in temperature are expected to worsen pollution.  Air pollution contributes to a number of respiratory diseases, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  Low-income communities and communities of color in California are especially vulnerable to air pollution.


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How does climate change affect air quality?

Climate change affects air quality in different ways.

  • Increased temperatures, sunlight, and humidity will elevate levels of ozone and dust
  • Increased temperatures and carbon dioxide will cause flowers to bloom earlier, elevating the production of allergens like pollen and mold spores

This will cause or exacerbate respiratory problems.


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How does air quality impact health?

An increase in allergens and pollution in the air we breathe will impact everyone's health. 

  • Air pollution can penetrate the protective layer of our lungs and cause inflammation.  This in turn can cause respiratory disease and symptoms such as chest pain and coughing, even among generally healthy individuals. 
  • Air pollution can impact the cardiovascular system, increasing the risk for heart attacks or blood clots
  • High temperatures have been found to make these health outcomes even worse1

Individuals who already have asthma or other respiratory diseases are even more sensitive to increases in allergens and air pollution.  As the climate changes and air quality worsens, the frequency and severity of asthmatic episodes may increase significantly.


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Who will be most affected?

  • Children
  • Pregnant women
  • Elderly
  • Poor
  • Individuals with respiratory diseases
  • Individuals who are active outdoors (workers, athletes, etc.)
  • Individuals who spend time in areas with high traffic levels

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Resources on climate change and air quality

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1. Qian ZM,  He Q, Lin H, et al. High Temperatures Enhanced Acute Mortality Effects of Ambient Particle Pollution in the "Oven" City of Wuhan, China. Environmental Health Perspectives. September 2008. 116(9):1172-1178.