Climate Change Makes Us Sick – Literally
Julie Mida Hinderer, a graduate of the Aquatic Sciences master’s program at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment, is a research assistant at NWF’s Great Lakes Regional Center. She is currently working on a report on Great Lakes nutrient pollution issues.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who has declared global warming to be “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” might be getting his comeuppance. Earlier this month, Sen. Inhofe contracted an illness from swimming in Grand Lake, Okla. during a toxic bloom of blue-green algae – a phenomenon exacerbated by global climate change. Local newspaper Tulsa World reported:
“There is no question,” the Oklahoma Republican said, linking what he thought was a routine dive into the lake last Monday morning to a severe upper respiratory illness.
“That night, Monday night, I was just deathly sick.”
Inhofe and his wife, Kay, have had a home on the lake for decades, and he has never seen that kind of algae in the water previously.
Oklahoma is currently facing a heat wave and an extreme drought, conditions perfect for the formation of large blooms of toxin-producing algae species. The Great Lakes are also afflicted by these harmful algal blooms (or HABs), particularly in the western basin of Lake Erie and other Ohio waters where nutrient-rich runoff from farm fields encourages out-of-control algal growth. Grand Lake St. Mary’s, in western Ohio, has been fouled by large and persistent HABs for the past several years; last summer, state officials advised the public not to swim, fish, or even boat at the lake. As of this writing, Grand Lake St. Mary’s has been under a contamination advisory due to a HAB for 50 consecutive days. Conditions at the lake have gotten so bad that nearby businesses hurt by the drop in tourism are eligible for federal disaster loans.
As temperatures warm in the Great Lakes region, and as extreme precipitation events driven by climate change transport more nutrients from the landscape to lakes, these toxic HABs are likely to become more prevalent and severe – impacting water quality, human health, and the economy.
Sadly, Sen. Inhofe and other politicians in Washington support budget cuts and other actions that will undermine both the Clean Air Act that curbs air pollution driving global climate change, and the Clean Water Act that protects water quality from Oklahoma to the Great Lakes. Sen. Inhofe’s painful encounter with the symptoms of climate change and surface water pollution might not have been a sufficient wake-up call.