Iowa scientists point climate change's effect on health

Explain the effects of increased frequency and severity of weather events

Water from the Cedar River flows under the Third Avenue Bridge as the Linn County Courthouse can be seen Saturday, June
Water from the Cedar River flows under the Third Avenue Bridge as the Linn County Courthouse can be seen Saturday, June 1, 2013, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)

DES MOINES — Iowans are feeling firsthand the effects of climate change, a coalition of Iowa scientists said Friday.

At a Statehouse news conference Friday, lead authors released “The Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans.” The fourth annual report was signed by 180 science faculty members and research staffers from 38 Iowa colleges and universities.

“Climate change is negatively impacting our water quality, increasing exposures to allergens and air pollutants, introducing new infectious diseases, and imposing increased stress on Iowa families,” said Peter Thorne, professor and head of the University of Iowa College of Public Health’s Department of Occupational & Environmental Health.

The group of scientists expressed concern that extreme weather events, including heavier rains and incidents of flooding, are increasing in frequency and severity as the atmosphere warms and holds more moisture.

“Repeated heavy rains increase human exposure to toxic chemicals and raw sewage that are spread by floodwaters,” said David Osterberg, a former state legislator and associate clinical professor in the UI Department of Occupational and Environmental Health.

Higher water temperatures combine with high nutrient levels in farm states such as Iowa to create large, harmful algae blooms, which make water unsuitable for human and animal consumption and for recreation, he added.

Mary Mincer Hansen, an adjunct professor at Des Moines University’s College of Health Sciences MPH Program and a former state public health official, said infectious diseases are becoming more common in Iowa. That’s because disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks live longer and expand their range due to longer summers with increased heat and moisture.

Hansen noted that climate change also is a contributing factor to mental health issues.

Thorne said respiratory problems, such as childhood asthma, have increased dramatically in recent decades due in part to increased exposures to mold after floods, higher pollen counts related to warmer temperatures and higher carbon dioxide levels in the air.

Dave Courard-Hauri, associate professor of Drake University’s Environmental Science and Policy Program, said the strong support among science faculty and research staff across Iowa for the climate change statement indicates action is needed to reduce the risks of new health problems.

The scientists agreed that adopting strong climate‐change policies would play a key role in diminishing human suffering and illness.

“As long as greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, climate‐related health problems will continue to grow,” said Neil Bernstein, chairman of Mount Mercy University’s Department of Natural and Applied Sciences.

“It is clear that expanding energy efficiency and clean renewable energy efforts will have the co‐benefits of reducing air pollution and the creation of additional jobs and economic opportunities for Iowans,” he added.

The statement can be found at

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