Climate change will bring more air pollution, mosquitoes to Oregon

Multnomah County Health Officer Justin Denny, with Commissioner Loretta Smith (right) and family intervention specialist and translator Raquel Aguillon released a new climate action plan Wednesday.

Multnomah County’s health department projected that climate change will yield poorer air quality, more heat waves and swarms of mosquitoes to the Portland region.

The “Climate Change and Public Health Preparation Plan” is the county’s first analysis of how higher temperatures and precipitation changes will affect Portland-area residents.

“For the first time, we’ve identified the specific health issues that our community will face,’’ said Dr. Justin Denny, Multnomah County’s health officer. “But we’ve also identified ways the community can protect people and help them adapt to conditions ahead.”

Those strategies include better tracking heat-related health problems and hazards, as well as monitoring mosquito-borne diseases.

Temperatures have already risen 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the area during the last century.

That means heat waves are becoming more common, with the warming trend most intense along Portland’s I-5 corridor and in areas with lots of asphalt and few trees.

The increased air pollution will enhance breathing diseases like asthma and allergies.

And with mosquito season set to grow longer, new, disease-bearing kinds will likely hit the area.

Kari Lyons-Eubanks, the study’s lead author, warned that the climate changes could most affect the elderly, the homeless, people of color and low-income community members. Those living in substandard housing frequently already have mold and mildew in their residences that trigger asthma attacks. Many elderly people may live on what Lyons-Eubanks calls “heat islands” with limited access to parks and greenspaces.

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