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This Week in PubHub: Health and the Environment

June 04, 2010

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her last post, she wrote about college readiness.)

During the month of June, PubHub is featuring foundation-funded reports related to the broad topic of health. With passage of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March and the emergence of a host of new problems, including the sovereign debt crisis in Europe and the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the debate over healthcare reform seems to have dropped off most people's radar. But health is deeply connected to energy policy, global climate change, and unintended consequences related to our use of ever-more complex technologies. The spotlight this week is on environmental health effects, their implications, and policy options for mitigation of the worst of those effects.

Health Problems Heat Up: Climate Change and the Public's Health, a 2009 report from Trust for America's Health, provides an overview of public health concerns related to rising global temperatures, changes in air quality, more extreme weather events, and climate-sensitive diseases. The authors' policy recommendations include increased funding for needs assessments and strategic planning at the federal, state, and local levels and for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health to create joint centers at research universities to study the health effects of global climate change.

While both the cost of health care and the health effects of global warming are much discussed, healthcare costs related to air pollution are just beginning to feed into the policy debate. In The Impact of Air Quality on Hospital Spending, the RAND Corporation analyzed spending on pollution-related hospital care ranging from emergency room visits for asthma to hospitalizations for respiratory and cardiovascular distress in California from 2005-07. Among other things, the report's authors calculate that if the state had met federal clean air standards, more than 29,000 hospital admissions and emergency room visits -- at a cost of $193 million to private insurers and public programs such as Medicare and Medicaid -- could have been avoided. 

The Public Policy Institute of California's report Climate Change Challenges: Vehicle Emissions and Public Health in California focuses on options for reducing a major source of both air pollution and global warming: smog-forming and greenhouse gas emissions from cars. The report examines options for reducing emissions, including battery-electric, fuel cell, and flex-fuel vehicles as well as fewer miles traveled, and the cost implications, risks, and trade-offs of each.

Approaching the health and the environment from another angle, the Urban Green Council proposes removing barriers to green practices by changing New York City building codes as well as zoning, health, consumer affairs, and environmental protection laws and regulations. Each recommendation in NYC Green Codes Task Force: Executive Summary includes color-coded indicators of the level of positive impact on the environment, public health, and potential costs and savings.

It often seems as if the options for reducing air pollution, minimizing global climate change, and mitigating their public health effects are as complex as the causes themselves; indeed, they involve multiple trade-offs and will require government action, investment, and support for technological solutions. But all the healthcare spending in the world will amount to little if we don't also address larger environmental issues.

What do you think? Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below. And don't forget to check out the almost 1,500 health-related reports in PubHub.

-- Kyoko Uchida

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