MADISON An anticipated increased incidence of climate-related extreme rainfall events in the Great Lakes region may raise the public health risk for the 40 million people who depend on the lakes for their drinking water, according to a new study.
In a report published today (Oct. 7, 2008) in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, a team of Wisconsin researchers reports that a trend toward extreme weather such as the monsoon-like rainfall events that occurred in many parts of the region this past spring is likely to aggravate the risk for outbreaks of waterborne disease in the Great Lakes region.
"If weather extremes do intensify, as these findings suggest, our health will be at greater risk," according to Jonathan Patz, a University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health professor of population health and an expert on the health effects of climate change.
A primary threat to human health, says Patz, are the extreme precipitation events that overwhelm the combined urban storm water and sewage systems such as those in Milwaukee and Chicago, resulting in millions of gallons of raw sewage being diverted to Lake Michigan. Adding to the risk throughout the region, Patz notes, is the growing concentration of livestock operations where heavy rainfall can wash large amounts of animal waste into the rivers and streams that drain into the Great Lakes, the world's greatest concentration of fresh surface water.
"It's the perfect storm," notes Patz. "Deteriorating urban water infrastructure, intensified livestock operations, and extreme climate change-related weather events may well put water quality, and thereby our health, at risk."
Waterborne diseases caused by pathogenic bacteria, viruses and parasites are among the most common health risks of drinking water. In 1993, Milwaukee experienced an outbreak in city drinking water of the parasite Cryptosporidium that exposed more than 400,000 people and kil
|Contact: Jonathan Patz|
University of Wisconsin-Madison