Climate Change and Respiratory Health

Current Evidence and Knowledge Gaps

Tim K Takaro; Kim Knowlton; John R Balmes


Expert Rev Resp Med. 2013;7(4):349-361. 

In This Article

Flooding, Storms & Mold Exposure

In addition to increased rainfall in tropical areas, climate change is predicted to increase the intensity of storm events that will lead to flooding.[53] Flooding threatens health infrastructure even in wealthy countries. Patients requiring mechanical ventilation and intensive care are particularly vulnerable due to the challenges posed by evacuation and power outages.[54] Resource poor facilities are likely to be even more vulnerable to extreme weather threats. Additionally, asthma exacerbations have been associated with thunderstorm activity in North America, Europe and Australia.[55,56] With increased intensity of storms this hazard may increase.

Floods can also cause persistent dampness in homes that is associated with microbial growth, especially fungal (molds). The molds that grow in buildings in a post-flood environment can be different and the levels much higher than what is common when flooding has not occurred. High indoor/outdoor mold ratios were observed in the months immediately following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, indicating the potential for high indoor exposures.[57] Respiratory illness associated with mold exposure is generally non-infectious in immune-competent individuals. Individuals who are sensitized to fungal allergens are at risk for exacerbations of allergic rhinitis and asthma with high indoor exposures.[58] Aero-allergenic mold levels may increase under climate change through several mechanisms: 1) elevated carbon dioxide concentrations augmenting growth, indoor dampness and conditions in building materials that encourage toxic mold growth indoors, and rising temperatures that support growth.[57,59–61]