Learn About Climate Hazards

Addressing climate-change hazards to protect health

Table of Contents

Banner photo of Great Blue Hill

Overview

Massachusetts is increasingly vulnerable to climate change hazards that impact individual and public health. The Climate Hazard Adaption Profiles (CHAPs) below provide information about climate hazards, human exposure and health impacts, vulnerable populations, and available resources for taking actions to protect health. CHAPs may be used as a tool to support municipal officials, public health workers, community organizations, residents, students, and other stakeholders interested in learning how climate change hazards can impact communities and what actions may be taken to prevent climate-related health impacts.

Climate Hazard Adaptation Profiles (CHAPs)

  • Extreme Heat and Poor Air Quality: Climate change is creating longer, hotter summers, increasing the number of hot days (>90°F) and contributing to high air pollution levels and pollen counts. Extreme temperatures can cause heat-related illness and worsen chronic health conditions such as respiratory, cardiovascular, and kidney diseases. Exposure to poor air quality can trigger asthma attacks.
  • Sea Level Rise: Sea levels are projected to rise 2.3 to 4.2 feet between 2000 and 2070, causing increased tidal flooding and higher storm surges. Rising sea levels may erode shorelines, threaten coastal drinking water supplies with salt-water intrusion, disrupt septic systems and sewage treatment, and displace residents. Health effects include water-borne illness from contaminated drinking water supplies, respiratory illness due to mold from flooding, and mental stress for people facing relocation or living in a deteriorating community.
  • Inland Flooding: Climate change is increasing the average amount of rainfall per storm and the frequency of major storms, causing rivers, streams, lakes, and drainage systems to flood. Floodwater may contain debris, sewage, bacteria, and toxic chemicals. Flooding leads to increases in food- and water-borne illness and causes mold growth in homes and buildings that can result in respiratory illness. People may be displaced from their homes and businesses, resulting in loss of employment and mental stress.
  • Extreme Weather: Climate models predict the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events such as tropical storms, hurricanes, and winter storms will continue to increase. Extreme weather events expose people to flood water and storm debris, and disrupt infrastructure exposing people to extreme cold or heat, unsafe food and drinking water, and mold in homes and buildings. Extreme weather events can lead to physical injury and death from storm damage and automobile accidents. Health effects include food- and water-borne illness, respiratory illness from exposure to mold, carbon monoxide poisoning, and mental stress from displacement.
  • Recreational Water Quality: Climate change is expected to change rainfall and temperature patterns in ways that may increase pathogens in beach water and occurrences of cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (CyanoHABs). Most beach water pathogens come from human or animal waste that may enter the water from storm water runoff, releases of untreated sewage with rainwater, poorly functioning septic systems, or through increased bacterial reproduction rates during hot weather. Swimming in contaminated water can result in acute gastrointestinal, respiratory, eye and ear symptoms, and skin rashes. Cyanobacteria toxins can affect the skin, liver, and the neurological system.

Additional Resources

For additional information about climate change hazards and health, vulnerable populations, community-specific data, and climate adaptation planning, please explore these resources:

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