Report Shows Maine will be “Allergen Hotspot” for Pollen
NRCM * NWF * AAFA
AUGUSTA, ME (April 14, 2010) – Spring is in the air, and it’s a mixed blessing for America’s 25 million allergy sufferers. A new report says many allergy triggers will worsen as a result of climate change unless action is taken to curb global warming pollution and prepare communities for the changes to come, and Maine is a candidate for high increases in allergenic tree pollen.
Tree pollen is the most common trigger for spring hay fever allergies. With spring arriving 10 to 14 days earlier than it did just 20 years ago, pollination and allergy symptoms are already starting sooner. New maps in the report show projected increases in habitat conducive to more allergenic trees. Maine and eight other states in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and lower Mississippi Valley are identified as hotspots for significant increases in allergenic tree pollen if global warming pollution increases unabated. An additional seven states are at risk of moderate increases (see below). Fall allergies, primarily caused by ragweed, are also getting worse. Ragweed at today’s carbon dioxide levels produces about twice as much pollen as it did 100 years ago. The pollen production rate could double again if we keep adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
“Maine already has one of the highest asthma rates in the nation: It affects one-in-ten adults,” said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, MD, MPH, Director – Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Higher pollen levels from global warming will only make Maine’s asthma problem worse. We are hearing about increased incidences already this year from an unusually high pollen count due to warmer temperatures. Reducing global warming pollution can help us to avoid these increasing health impacts.”
Global warming is especially bad news for the millions of asthmatics in the United States whose asthma attacks are triggered by allergens. They will have to cope with more abundant and severe allergens plus likely increases in ground-level ozone pollution, particularly in urban areas. High ozone concentrations can trigger asthma symptoms and make bronchial airways less able to cope with allergens.
“We already know that pollution from our power plants, cars, and factories creates smog that harms the health of Maine people,” said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Those same sources also produce the global warming pollution that is expected to increase the level of pollen causing even more asthma problems. We are counting on Senators Snowe and Collins to lead the way in the Senate for legislation that will bring us a clean, safe, energy future.”
“With climate change comes a change in ecology, such as the thriving of some forms of plant and animal life and the disappearance of others,” says Dr. Norma Dreyfus, MD, Co-Chair of the Maine Medical Association Public Health Committee. “With extreme weather events, some areas will experience flooding and others drought, extreme temperatures, poor air quality, aeroallergens, and increases in food-, water- and vector- borne diseases. This will especially affect our most vulnerable: children, the chronically ill, poor, and elderly. Physicians need to be aware of these changes and the link between health and climate change, and to educate themselves and their patients on how they can mitigate and adapt to the effects of global warming.”
“Unchecked global warming will worsen respiratory allergies due to higher pollen levels,” said Dr. Paul Shapero a Bangor allergy specialist who serves on the board of the American Lung Association in Maine. “We need action to reduce global warming pollution now, or allergies and asthma will just get worse.”
“I see more people with allergy issues and associated painful symptoms around their eyes each year,” said Dr. Maroulla Gleaton, an Augusta ophthalmologist. “Certainly, climate changes that impact the types of vegetation growing in different areas are increasing the incidence of symptoms and disease. This report makes it clear that this type of problem will only get worse, if climate changing pollution is left unchecked.”
“High levels of plant pollens in summer can produce ‘bad air days,’” says Dr. Paul Liebow, Bucksport, a former emergency room doctor at Eastern Maine Medical Center. “For every respiratory patient who comes to the Emergency Department in distress, after being tipped over the edge by bad air, there are probably 20-50 more sucking on expensive inhalers, and several hundred more with increased upper respiratory and allergic type symptoms. The bad air days will start earlier in the season, and last later as climate change continues. Parents will be up more nights giving nebulizer treatments to their kids with asthma. We must act now.”
“Climate change could allow allergenic trees like oak and hickory to start replacing pines, spruces, firs, and other trees that don’t cause allergies, exposing many more people to springtime allergy triggers,” said Amanda Staudt, Ph.D., National Wildlife Federation climate scientist and lead author of the new report, Extreme Allergies and Global Warming.
The report was jointly released today by the National Wildlife Federation and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation. It also warns that fungal spores, poison ivy, and even allergic reactions to bee stings could be on the increase.