There is no denying it: climate change is bringing the heat. As the Pacific Northwest experiences one of the largest heat waves ever recorded, we all remember the discomfort and disruption that extreme temperatures bring. But if you’re one of the many workers in the US or around the world who work outdoors, extreme heat isn’t just uncomfortable; it can pose a significant risk to your health. These health risks make workers in certain industries more susceptible to the consequences of climate change, including those working in agriculture, construction, mining and forestry. In places like Central America, climate change is suspected to contribute to diseases such as Chronic kidney disease of unknown origin (CKDu), Since rising temperatures, in combination with higher humidity levels, can cause significant dehydration in outdoor workers, even within a few hours of the start of a shift. Beyond dehydration and heat stress, evidence suggests that other environmental risk factors, such as air pollution or contaminated water supplies, can contribute to kidney damage in these workers.
For researchers at the Center for Health, Work and Environment (CHWE) of the Colorado School of Public Health, the connection between climate, work and health is especially affecting close to home. Despite a long and wet winter and spring, Colorado’s official start to summer 2021 has brought with it several major wildfires. These fires pose an immediate danger to wildland firefighters who work hard to protect wildlife and homeowners caught in the path of fires. These fires also impact Coloradans across the state, bringing smoke and ash to Coloradans even hundreds of miles away. Researcher Kathy James observes the change in view from her home at this time of year (pictured below, Figure 1), as smoke from wildfires can often create a dense haze. Smoky skies not only spoil the mountain views that many Coloradans cherish, but they bring with them health risks, ranging from skin and eye irritation and short-term shortness of breath, to cardiovascular and respiratory problems. and long-term neurological.
With climate challenges at home and abroad in mind, CHWE researchers are embarking on a new venture to directly address the intersection between climate, work and human health by launching the Climate Initiative, Work and Health (CWHI). CWHI’s research focuses on the intersection of the work environment and the consequences of climate change, including heat, air pollution, altered precipitation patterns, and water resources and wildfires. For the past six years, CHWE has leveraged partnerships with a Central American agribusiness to develop, test, and implement new protocols for hydration, rest, electrolyte intake, health risk behaviors, and noise exposure to protect workers in their environment. current and help them adjust. to long-term realities. The latest initiative launch is a large multi-year research grant to study how air pollution from burning practices and other sources may be affecting the health of agricultural workers in Central America. At the same time, CWHI is studying how weather patterns have impacted water quality and kidney health in southern Colorado.
Farmworkers in Central America and Coloradans share common threats from different mechanisms of climate change. In Central America, intense humidity and agricultural burning practices (pictured below – Figures 2 and 3) can contrast with Colorado-specific struggles such as changing precipitation patterns, snow cover loss, and snowfall. persistent forest fires. Both represent the long struggle we have to protect human health. The relationship between our climate and how we work may seem different, but the importance of understanding that relationship and developing strategies to mitigate potential adverse health effects is true, no matter where we are located. As a public health community, we have a responsibility to balance our efforts to combat the negative effects of climate change on health at home with a more global perspective. The work of CHWE and CWHI at the University of Colorado is to discover that this local-global balance is not just the right thing to do, it opens doors for richer partnerships, better science, and climate solutions that can be replicated in locations around the world. .
Francesca Macaluso, Miranda Dally, Lyndsay Krisher, and Katherine A. James are all researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health and the Center for Health, Labor, and the Environment, as well as APHA Climate for Health Ambassadors.
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