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Worsening effects of climate change are impacting Californians' health, report finds

A bicyclist passes a bank sign displaying a temperature of 116 degree in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Sept. 5, 2022.
Rich Pedroncelli
AP Photo
A bicyclist passes a bank sign displaying a temperature of 116 degree in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Sept. 5, 2022.

California state scientists released a report this week that found the impacts of climate change are speeding up, affecting human health.

The study, released by the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, found that the state has seen an “unprecedented” number of wildfires, increase in illness, higher temperatures and worsening drought as a result of climate change.

The report’s authors wrote that climate change has impacted every California resident, and that it is “increasingly taking a toll on the health and well-being of its people and on its unique and diverse ecosystems.”

Carmen Milanes with CalEPA said key findings illustrate a continuation of long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns.

"Generally, not necessarily surprising, but troubling because of the rate of change and the compounding things that are co-occurring and compounding effects such as drought with hotter temperatures and low precipitation and low snowpack," she said.

Half of the 20 largest wildfires in California since 1950 burned in 2020 and 2021, according to the report. And the last two decades have been the state’s driest in the past millennium.

“Across the state, we live the experience of extreme weather, deepening drought and deadly wildfires and heatwaves,” CalEPA Secretary Yana Garcia said in a prepared release. “This report shows scientifically what we know from experience.”

The report also found that there has been an increase in heat illnesses statewide. In the last 20 years, cases of work-related heat illness in California have tripled, going from roughly 550 cases in 2000 to more than 1,600 cases in 2017.

Cases of coccidioidomycosis, known as Valley fever and caused by inhaling fungal spores, have also gone up in the last 20 years, the report said. Amy Gilson with CalEPA said rising temperatures have contributed to the increase in statewide Valley fever cases.

"One of [the reasons] is climate change, because the spores get dispersed through the air more effectively during hot and dry conditions,” she said.

The report’s release follows a summer of record-breaking heat. The West Coast broke nearly a thousand temperature records during a 10-day heat wave.

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