Can global warming give you kidney stones?

By Kate Sheppard

The 1995 Chicago heat wave was one of the most brutal weather events the United States has ever experienced. On July 13, the thermostat hit 106 degrees. Many of the city’s poor and elderly residents had no air conditioning; many of those who did lost power as blackouts swept the city. Soon, thousands were suffering from dehydration, kidney failure and respiratory distress. The hospitals were overloaded; the city couldn’t cope with the flood of 911 calls. Over the following days, more than 600 people died from heat-related illnesses, with hundreds of bodies temporarily stored in refrigerated meat trucks because the city morgues were full.

The Chicago disaster was the worst heat wave in recent U.S. memory. But if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current path, health experts say catastrophic heat waves are likely to become far more common. Heat-related deaths in Chicago are expected to quadruple by 2050, up from the current annual average of 182, according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, a government study. Rising temperatures and accompanying atmospheric changes will alter disease patterns and aggravate all manners of medical conditions, from asthma to respiratory diseases to—believe it or not—kidney stones. In May 2009, the medical journal The Lancet and University College London’s Institute for Global Health issued a major report concluding that climate change is the “biggest global health threat of the 21st century.”

All of this means new costs for the U.S. health care system—which will almost certainly be passed on to consumers in the form of higher insurance premiums. What is the insurance industry doing to prepare?

So far, not much. In 2008, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the group representing state government regulators of property, health and life insurers, announced that all such companies would be required to report both the risks and opportunities that climate change poses to their businesses. Some were eager to get started. Property insurers, says Joel Ario, chair of NAIC’s climate task force, “are probably the only people I know who are more worried about climate change than the environmentalists.”

X-Ray of Kidney Stones

An x-ray of a 7 mm kidney stone.

But the health insurers have been resistant. In a survey by NAIC, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s powerful lobby group, responded that it “has not adopted specific practices to identify climate change-related risks.” It added, “While we continue to monitor climate change as it pertains to the global health care situation there is no conclusive information currently available to address the effects of climate change on health care.” The American Council of Life Insurers argued in a letter that “knowledge in this area is not sufficiently developed to warrant an immediate, significant, costly and possibly damaging change to the content and nature of annual statement reporting.” After pushback from the broader insurance industry, NAIC made disclosure voluntary on a state-by-state basis. (Some states intend to move forward with the mandatory disclosure policies as planned.)

It’s true that there are many unanswered questions about exactly how rising temperatures will affect human health. But there’s mounting evidence that the impact will be significant, according to major research efforts from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health, and the calls climate change “an environmental health hazard of unprecedented scale and complexity.”

 
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Comments

  • http://churchillenvsci.edublogs.org/2010/05/06/need-to-know-climate-change-news/ Can Climate Change Give you Kidney Stones? CLIMATE CHANGE NEWS for EXTRA CREDIT | CHURCHILL ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE

    [...] Can global warming give you kidney stones? [...]

  • David Gore

    This is unbelievable. The fact that we can possible get larger kidney stones. It just shows how much we need to take care our environment because if we do not take care of it we can get kidney stones. When I am sixty I dont want to have kidney stones. This article shows me that I need to be taking care of the environment

  • Sheila Damiani

    HELLO? Rises in degerative diseases, kids born with asthma, stress levels creating nervous system overload. The height of gas prices, the reduction of air and water quality, the resource depletion at alarming rates. How much is enough? How much money do these Companies have to make before they say let’s try something new. This article gave me a long exhale,Uhhhhhhhhh. Environment on the inside reflects what is going on, on the outside. But alas, there isn’t enough information to link any of our physical problems to climate change. After all, many businesses thrive on health issues.

  • Marco

    Interesting and detailed article, mainly because the reference sources are reliable.

    However It does not surprise me at all, a good environment is fundamental for the human health. Furthermore, if we think about the global warming, it is logical that it affects the kidney stones size, because high environmental temperature accelerates the dehydration, unfavorable condition for those suffering from kidney stones.

    I discovered it (I myself suffer from kidney stones, oxalate type) looking for info about iced tea and its oxalate amount. If it can be useful I found it here:

    http://www.dissolvekidneystones.net/link-between-tea-consumption-and-kidney-stones/