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Ep 46 So Many Health Issues on a Changing Climate

Dr. Clair Herrick

Dr. Claire Herrick

This episode is all about health and climate change. We hear from Dr. Claire Herrick, who taught me a bunch of things I did not know was happening with our health on our rapidly changing planet. From respiratory ailments to mosquitos bringing diseases like Dengue fever and Zika virus, Dr. Herrick gives a clear overview of the health risks we face. She along with Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz and Climate Stew commentator, Marvin Bloom, not only highlight serious health concerns, but also how the racial disparity in who is affected. Health, environmental justice, and Marvin in an oxygen tent.

Climate Stew podcast is available on iTunesStitcherTuneIn RadioSoundCloudSpreaker Radio, or Listen here  on our site. In whatever format you use, please rate and review! It makes a big difference. You can follow us on Twitter. Also check out our Facebook page where you can give your ideas of what you want to hear on the program.

Music Credits

  • Over and Over from Five Song Demo by Mark Chadwick
  • Auditive Escape with Air Like Water, Coldness of Words,  and Purple Vessel on the Conundrum LP
  • Skinless with Eclipse Outro from the Rooftops EP
  • Gregory Sheppard–Original composition for Uncle P
  • La Rose by Chenard Walcker on the Blessed album





Climate Stew host, Peterson Toscano

Climate Stew host, Peterson Toscano

Welcome to this 46th Episode of Climate Stew. The podcast that does not insist you change your lifestyle. Just the world we live in. I’m Peterson Toscano. Happy to be with you. Oh, and I love hearing from you. Thanks for the comments at Climate Stew dot Com and for the emails I have been getting. Just send your thoughts, ideas, and personal stories to Tweet with us @climate_stew

Today we look at climate change and health issues. In September I heard Claire Herrick, a medical doctor, speak at a climate rally in Phoenix, AR. You will hear her informative presentation along with some funky background noises of a clanging trolly and a squaking bird. Dr. Herrick outlines the many health risks that come from pollution and from a rapidly warming planet. Marvin Bloom also chimes in to reveal his sordid asthmatic past. But first Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz shares a story about an inner city community afflicted with environmental and health problems. They refused to be buried in pollution and disease.

Yale Climate Connections

Members of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

Members of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

Little Village, a predominantly Latino neighborhood in Chicago, has a history of fighting for environmental justice. It began when residents started investigating why local asthma rates were so high.

Kimberly Wasserman of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization says they were surprised to find a coal-fired power plant hidden in their community.

WASSERMAN: “And this is something that most folks think is easily recognizable, but it wasn’t. It was tucked away in the industrial corridor of our neighborhood, right off the highway, and the reality is they gave off white smoke which was very unassuming – it wasn’t black, it didn’t smell.”

Yet, the plant was spewing dangerous sulfur dioxide into the air. Local residents campaigned for more than ten years, and the plant finally closed in 2012. Today the legacy is an engaged and environmentally-conscious community.

020216_LittleVillageLittle Village now boasts a 22-acre park, a new bus line, and community gardens. Residents are helping to decide how to redevelop the site of the former coal plant in a way that supports the local economy.

And Wasserman’s organization is developing a climate adaptation plan to address local concerns such as flooding and help ensure environmental justice and security for Little Village residents.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Activists from the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Rising Tide North America, Rainforest Action Network (RAN), and the Backbone Campaign climbed the fence of the controversial Crawford coal plant in Little Village and unfurled a 7’ x 30’ banner, which reads: “Close Chicago’s Toxic Coal Plants.” Photo credit: RAN.

Main Section: Dr. Claire Herrick and Health on a changing planet

nude (xx) by Ugo Rondinone at MOMA PS1 (photo credit: p.toscano)

nude (xx) by Ugo Rondinone at MOMA PS1 (photo credit: p.toscano)

Dr. Herrick highlights the many health dangers that come from pollution and from climate change.

From Spare the Air here is an outline of some of the risks poised by pollution.

People most susceptible to severe health problems from air pollution are:

•Individuals with heart disease – such as coronary artery disease or congestive heart failure

•Individuals with lung disease – such as asthma, emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

•Pregnant women

•Outdoor workers

•Children under age 14, whose lungs are still developing

•Athletes who exercise vigorously outdoors

High air pollution levels can cause immediate health problems:

•Aggravated cardiovascular and respiratory illness

•Added stress to heart and lungs, which must work harder to supply the body with oxygen

•Damaged cells in the respiratory system

Long-term exposure to polluted air can have permanent health effects:

•Accelerated aging of the lungs

•Loss of lung capacity

•Decreased lung function

•Development of diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and possibly cancer

•Shortened life span

Health Effects from Specific Pollutants

Ground-level Ozone

asthma-causesGround-level ozone is formed when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) react with the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The primary source of VOCs and NOx is mobile sources, including cars, trucks, buses, construction equipment and agricultural equipment.

Ground-level ozone reaches its highest level during the afternoon and early evening hours. High levels occur most often during the summer months. It is a strong irritant that can cause constriction of the airways, forcing the respiratory system to work harder in order to provide oxygen. It can also cause other health problems:

•Aggravated respiratory disease such as emphysema, bronchitis and asthma

•Damage to deep portions of the lungs, even after symptoms such as coughing or a sore throat disappear

•Wheezing, chest pain, dry throat, headache or nausea

•Reduced resistance to infection

•Increased fatigue

•Weakened athletic performance

Particulate Matter (PM)

Particulate Matter is a complex mixture that may contain soot, smoke, metals, nitrates, sulfates, dust, water and tire rubber. It can be directly emitted, as in smoke from a fire, or it can form in the atmosphere from reactions of gases such as nitrogen oxides.

The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Small particles (known as PM2.5 or fine particulate matter) pose the greatest problems because they can get deep into your lungs and some may even get into your bloodstream. Exposure to such particles can affect both your lungs and your heart.

Scientific studies have linked long-term particle pollution, especially fine particles, with significant health problems including:

•Increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing

•Decreased lung function

•Aggravated asthma

•Development of chronic respiratory disease in children

•Development of chronic bronchitis or chronic obstructive lung disease

•Irregular heartbeat

•Nonfatal heart attacks

•Premature death in people with heart or lung disease, including death from lung cancer

Short-term exposure to particles (hours or days) can:

•Aggravate lung disease causing asthma attacks and acute bronchitis

•Increase susceptibility to respiratory infections

•Cause heart attacks and arrhythmias in people with heart disease

Even if you are healthy, you may experience temporary symptoms, such as:

•Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat


•Chest tightness

•Shortness of breath

Your Moment with Marvin

Stairwell at MOMA PS1 (photo by p.toscano)

Stairwell at MOMA PS1 (photo by p.toscano)

Hi This is Marvin, Marvin Bloom, and this is your moment with Marvin.

Alright, so I live in Long Island, NY. It’s very nice. But I was born in Brooklyn. You could say I’m a refugee. I needed to find refuge from asthma.

I was a very happy kid growing up in Brooklyn. But I had asthma—bad. It was always there lurking in my lungs. Lots of things set it off. The mold in Grandma Bloom’s house. The car fumes from the BQE highway that loomed over us.

And then there was my Aunt Slyvia. She triggered my asthma all the time. It was her amazing sense humor when she told stories about how she escaped the Nazi’s dressed as a nun. She put a towel over her head as she prowled around the living room evading capture. I laughed so hard. But laughing like that wasn’t good for me. Her comedy stirred up my asthma. Well and her cigarette smoking didn’t help.

As a kid I also didn’t help matters much. I was very hyperactive. I ran around the house, there was too much pollution to play in the streets. Then I started wheezing. My airway became constricted. Swollen. It filled with mucus. I couldn’t catch my breath. One time I even passed out. I woke up in an oxygen tent in the hospital. My mother’s face was pressed up against the plastic like a mosquito trying to get at me.

After that my mother refused to let me run around. She would literally tie me to a dinning room chair. But I still had asthma attacks. I kept missing school. And I got behind. According to the Centers for Disease Control, because of asthma, there are more than 10 million lost school days every year. And adults lose over 14 million work days annually.

asthma_nylcvMy mom was beside herself. She kept saying to my father, ‘Saul, we need to get out of this neighborhood. It’s killing Marvin.’ Which was true—I regularly inhaled dust, soot, diesel exhaust, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide from coal-fired electric plants. This is what I was breathing in as a kid. And it triggered my asthma.

But it started even before sucked the bad air into my lung. When I was just a fetus breathing in amniotic fluid, the pollution got to me. A new study reveals Babies born to mothers exposed to air pollution from traffic during pregnancy have an increased risk of developing asthma before the age of six. If a woman lives close to a highway during pregnancy, her kid has a 25 percent increased risk of developing asthma before age 5.

For me it was bad. So when I was 9 years old we moved to Long Island. Even though it was a longer commute for my father and I left all my friends behind. But we were the lucky ones. We were able to get out. We found a neighborhood that was healthy that let us move in.

Lots of white families Christian and Jewish in the New York area can escape the pollution that causes asthma. In fact, white people in the NYC area breath in clearer air than Black and Hispanic people. Consider kids hospitalized because of Asthma. In New York City 43.7% of Hispanic kids 17 years and younger landed in the hospital with asthma. 72.8% of Black kids were hospitalized. And white kids? 9.5%. Look at the maps that compare asthma rates and New York neighborhoods. Disease increases with pollution. Ok.  And the pollution increases within Black and Hispanic communities. Their environments are severely toxic. That’s not right.

But here’s the good news. Real Climate action will immediately improve people’s health. We must Increase fuel efficiency in cars, drive less, stop burning coal in power plants Not only will it address climate change—it will give us cleaner air in every neighborhood and healthier bodies.

This is Marvin, Marvin Bloom. And This is your Moment with Marvin.


Write Peterson:

Write Peterson:

I hope you learned a lot about health, pollution, and climate change. Do you have health related climate or pollution stories to share. Email me that’s

Last episode I raised question: What if we lived in a world where there was no climate denial. What if for the past 10 years everyone agreed climate change was happening and human pollution and activity was the cause. What would be talking about?

I got wonderful responses including one from Wade Tomlinson a teacher at Westtown School

In response to the question Wade wrote me:

I think if the collective imagination of the entire human race were invested in solving the problem, we would be witnessing a renaissance of:

  • Design Architecture Energy – use and consumption
  • Humanitarian Aid
  • Contingency Plans for the Future Emergency
  • Planning Cutting Military Budgets, and adding into Civic Works Projects just to name a few.

Harnessing the talents of the collective gives us many advantages toward tackling the problem of Climate Change both as a human rights issue and an environmental one.”

Well said. Thanks Wade.

You can see a transcript from much of today’s show. I also have lots of useful links so you can dig in deeper. Just go to Like Wade think about how you can share the topics we talk about here with your friends in social media. I put up lots of excerpts of the show for you over at SoundCloud. Just go to search for Climate Stew and you will find us.

Music for today’s program by AuditiveEscape, Skipless, Gregory Sheppard, and Chenard Walcker.

Special thanks to Dr. Claire Herrick, Gretchen Reinhardt, oh, and Joe G, who can be so funny, he triggers my asthma.


Thanks for listening to Climate Stew.

Peterson Toscano

Author: Peterson Toscano

Peterson Toscano is a quirky queer Quaker concerned about Climate Change. His website is

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