Climate change means a long-term shift in weather conditions, such as temperature, rain/snowfall, extreme weather events, and rising sea levels. Climate change is expected to result in warmer temperatures, longer and hotter summers, more frequent and/or more severe weather events such as hurricanes/tornadoes, thunderstorms, wildfires, floods, and droughts. The impacts of climate change have the potential to influence health outcomes, and can impact health through temperature-related illnesses, poor air quality, water and foodborne diseases, exposure to ultraviolet rays, as well as increased risk of vector-borne diseases. (Government of Canada, 2019)
As a part of the modernization of the Ontario Public Health Standards in 2018, updates were made to the Health Hazard Response Protocol, 2019 and Healthy Environments and Climate Change Guideline, 2019 that require public health units, in collaboration with municipalities and local organizations, to address local impacts of climate change. This includes reducing exposure to environmental health hazards in the community, increasing public awareness of health hazards, and developing policies that address climate change. The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU), in collaboration with municipalities and local partners, is currently working to identify and implement local mitigation and adaptation strategies in order to reduce the negative effects on public health related to climate change.
As noted in the recent Community Needs Assessment 2019 Update, Windsor and Essex County (WEC) has experienced the impacts of climate change in recent years such as record levels of precipitation and severe storms, which have led to widespread flooding events and emergencies. In recent years, there have been periods of extended heat and annual algal blooms that greatly affect our local communities. Between 1941 and 2012, the annual average temperature for the City of Windsor increased by almost 1°C based on data received from the Environment Canada weather station at Windsor Airport (City of Windsor, 2012). WEC experienced a consistent increase in annual precipitation with a 1 to 3% increase per decade from 1970 – 2000. Heavy rainfall events lasting for approximately 30 minutes increased by 5% per decade during 1971-2000 in Windsor (City of Windsor, 2012). Daily rainfall extremes have especially increased during the months of May, June, and July by 7% per decade during the baseline period.
The favourable climatic conditions for vector borne diseases is present in Southwest Ontario, especially WEC, and are expected to expand over a wider geographical area by the 2050s and 2080s (Gough et al., 2016). The WECHU’s mosquito and tick surveillance programs have identified the presence and establishment of the lone star tick, and invasive mosquito species like the Aedes albopictus and possibly Aedes aegypti. The lone star tick is a vector for multiple pathogens and its bite can trigger an allergy to red meat. Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti mosquitoes transmit viruses not normally seen in Canada, such as Zika, Dengue fever, and Chikungunya.
In support of the development of a comprehensive local approach to address climate change, the WECHU is collaborating with Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) and local municipalities to undertake development of a regional climate change strategy. The strategy will include establishment of sector-based implementation teams (e.g., Land Use and Watershed planning, Human Health and Well- being, Water Resources, Nature and Ecosystems, Energy, and Agriculture) and each team will develop a ‘roadmap’ for their issue area. The WECHU will lead the Human Health and Well-being implementation team and will provide local evidence and understanding of the linkages between climate change and health within the WEC, identify promising evidence based interventions, and recognize local system gaps and strategies to address them.
Whereas, WEC is experiencing the environmental effects of climate change with examples such as extreme flooding in 2016 and 2017, heat waves, large algal blooms in our lakes, established population of the mosquito Aedes albopictus (a vector for Zika, Dengue fever, and Chikungunya) and food insecurity; and
Whereas, climate change impacts the health of individuals through temperature-related illnesses and mortality, extreme weather events, poor air quality, water and foodborne diseases, exposure to ultraviolet rays, increased risk of infectious diseases, as well as impacts local agri-business ; and
Whereas, climate change affects vulnerable populations disproportionately such as children, older adults, people with chronic illness, low income and homeless people, newcomers, migrant workers, and people living and working in rural and remote areas; and
Whereas, the WECHU is committed to ongoing collaborations with local organizations and municipalities in WEC on a regional climate change strategy in an effort to protect the safety, prosperity and livability of our region.
Now therefore be it resolved the Windsor-Essex County Board of Health encourages municipalities to systematically incorporate climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies into new and existing policies and programs such as land use and building applications, and active transportation master plans in order to manage health risks associated with climate change; and
FURTHER THAT, the Windsor-Essex County Board of Health will adopt and implement climate change initiatives and programs that support municipalities and local organizations, both public and private, to take climate action and raise the public’s awareness about the health impacts of climate change in order to drive individual behaviour change in support of climate change action.
- City of Windsor. (2012). Climate Change Adaptation Plan. Retrieved from https://www.citywindsor.ca/residents/environment/Environmental-Master-Plan/Documents/Windsor%20Climate%20Change%20Adaptation%20Plan.pdf
- Gough, W., Anderson, V., Herod, K. (2016). Ontario climate change and health modelling study: report. Ontario: Queen's Printer for Ontario.
- Government of Canada. (2019). Causes of Climate Change. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/climate-change/causes.html
- Kovats, R. S., Bouma, M. J., Hajat, S., Worrall, E. & Haines, A. (2003). El Niño and health. Lancet. 362, 1481–1489.