Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit Barrie Office
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Board Meeting Notes May 17, 2017

Jun 07, 2017
Preparing for climate change impacts

Preparing for climate change impacts

Children being born today in Simcoe Muskoka may see the local climate resembling Mississippi’s by the time they reach retirement age, if the average annual temperature keeps climbing at the same rate.

That was the sobering introduction to a technical assessment on the impact of climate change on health in this region, prepared by the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. The 200-page report, presented to the Board of Health in May, explores the likely changes to air quality, precipitation, weather extremes, and the health risks that could result.

All projections were based on the assumption that the average annual temperature would continue on its current upward trend.

“Global surface temperature in 2016 was the warmest since official records began in 1880; it was the third year in a row to set a new heat record,” Marina Whelan, manager of health hazards for the health unit said. “In 1958, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere was 315 ppm and now exceeds 400 ppm. This represents about a 25 per cent increase and has greenhouse gas levels tracking on a ‘worst case scenario’ trend. As a result we have had to base this health vulnerability assessment on a model that shows the climate continuing to warm.”

The health impacts of climate change range from the dramatic—injuries and property loss from ice storms, forest fires and floods—to more subtle changes, such as the effect of increased ground level ozone on respiratory disease, more frequent blooms of blue-green algae threatening drinking water, and more frequent illness from insect-borne diseases like Lyme disease. The report also highlights opportunities for reducing greenhouse gases. 

Whelan pointed out that the report’s language is very technical; a more reader-friendly version will be created in the near future. Before being released, it received extensive review from experts with the City of Barrie; Environment and Climate Change Canada; Health Canada; the Public Health Agency of Canada; Public Health Ontario; the Muskoka Watershed Council; and the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority.

The health unit’s strategic plan set the goal of a climate change action plan as a top priority. The report is one of the first initiatives to emerge from the planning and will serve as a tool to help the health unit engage with municipalities, conservation authorities, and other community agencies to build greater resilience to the impact on health of a changing local climate, and to share steps that could reduce the severity of climate change.


Next Meeting

The next meeting of the board of health takes place June 21 at 9:15 a.m.
in the Barrie office, 15 Sperling Drive.

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