Climate march

What: People’s Climate March Bend

Where: Start at Drake Park stage and end at Bend Education Center across from the Downtown Bend Library. Marchers will stay on city sidewalks and obey all traffic signals.

When: Noon to 3 p.m., Saturday, April 29.

People are asked to RSVP at http://350deschutes.org, click on Events.

Last year, during an unusually warm and dry February preceded by a similarly temperate January, Dr. Adam Williams noticed his patients with juniper allergies were complaining about symptoms much earlier than usual. Earlier, in fact, than in any of his nine years of practicing in Bend.

“Typically we don’t think of juniper really getting going until the end of March,” said Williams, an allergist with Bend Memorial Clinic.

It wasn’t the first time Williams said he’s experienced a longer allergy season. Not only that — there is some evidence that a warming climate may be upping the pollen doses during allergy seasons, too. Of course, Williams can’t say for certain that the changes he’s seeing in his patients are the result of climate change, but he said it’s a concern, and he fears worse changes could be in store.

The human health effects of climate change are very difficult to quantify, but advocates and doctors both locally and statewide are urging people to be aware of and prepare for potential hazards and, when possible, even work to prevent the worst effects.

Central Oregon, known for its clean water and blue skies, is a far cry from a city billowing with smog. But even here, some argue locals should take action to maintain clean air and water. When Dr. Nathan Boddie, a Bend City Councilor and physician with Mosaic Medical, urges local action against climate change, he sometimes gets pushback.

“People tend to throw their hands in the air and say, ‘This doesn’t really mean much at the local level,’” he said. “But really, that’s the only place that we can work.”

In that spirit, Boddie will speak at a climate march in Bend on April 29. It’s being held in solidarity with sister marches across the country.

Changing snowpack levels

Central Oregon’s snowpack has varied widely in recent years, a trend climate experts attribute to climate change. In recent years, the trend has been toward snowpack peaking and melting away earlier in the year.

Oregon recorded its lowest snowpack on record in 2015. A rapidly melting snowpack puts the region at increased risk of having a severe wildfire season.

Wildfires harm human health by sending fine particulate matter into the air. The particles are so small they can easily become lodged into the lungs, causing or exacerbating a number of respiratory or even cardiac issues. Williams sees this happening very clearly in his practice.

“Forest fires are one of the worst triggers that I deal with in my asthmatics,” he said.

Inhaled particles can affect the heart in a few ways. They can stimulate receptors in the lungs that may prompt changes in heart rhythm, according to a 2015 study in the journal Multidisciplinary Respiratory Medicine. Particles from inflammatory chemicals can also damage the heart if they’re small enough to pass into the bloodstream, according to the study.

Bend has generally good air quality. Even on its worst days, the city remains well below the federal government’s limits for particulate matter in the air. For its part, the World Health Organization has determined there is no evidence of a safe level of exposure or a threshold below which no adverse health effects occur. In Central Oregon, particulate matter in the air comes mostly from wildfires, prescribed burns, wood stoves and other forms of burning, said Greg Svelund, who works for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in Bend.

“We have been pushing the health messages very strongly for particulate matter,” he said. “That correlation is pretty widely known.”

Officials track pollution that comes from vehicles and industry differently. Central Oregon doesn’t monitor those emissions, mostly because it hasn’t been a problem locally, Svelund said. The region also doesn’t inspect vehicles to ensure they comply with emissions standards.

Boddie said he believes Bend is at a significant risk for having an inadequate water supply in the coming decades. Central Oregon is unique in that it relies on snowpack in the mountains for drinking water, to supply streams and for agriculture.

This year was a good snow year, but discussions about climate change should place more focus on overall trends rather than on specific years, Boddie said.

“If that snowpack starts to deteriorate, then we really run the risk of not having access to that drinking water,” he said.

Working to lower emissions

For its part, the Oregon Environmental Council has turned its focus toward harmful emissions from diesel fuel engines, such as those used in construction equipment, garbage trucks and school buses. Engines built before 2007 in particular tend to be a big source of diesel emissions, said Jen Coleman, the council’s health outreach director. The ones built after that year are 95 percent cleaner, she said.

Pollution from such sources tends to be worse along high-traffic corridors, but it can also be significant in neighborhoods, where school buses and garbage trucks pass by frequently, Coleman said.

The OEC wants the state to set a mandatory standard for diesel emissions and to provide financial incentives for companies to get older engines off the road.

“It’s a public health challenge regardless of what’s happening with climate change,” she said. “But it also happens to be the kinds of health effects that will be exacerbated by a changing climate.”

Locally, Boddie wants to further develop programs and projects, such as more bike paths on the east side of town, that encourage active modes of transportation like walking and biking instead of driving. He also hopes improving the region’s public transportation system will help get some of the cars off the road.

Of course, Bend’s housing crisis exacerbates the problem of vehicular emissions, because many people who live in Redmond drive to Bend for work, Boddie said.

“That creates more traffic and it’s more vehicle miles and more pollution,” he said. “Any time we’re burning more fuel, we’re making more of this fine, particulate soot and that’s the stuff that’s bad for the air quality and bad for health.”

State plan takes shape

The Oregon Health Authority’s public health division recently completed its Climate and Health Resilience Plan, a document that outlines recommendations for local health departments and others in the state for adapting to climate change and related health risks.

The report’s executive summary notes that in addition to recording its lowest snowpack on record in 2015, that year was also the state’s warmest year on record. It was also one of the state’s most severe fire seasons in modern history. Droughts were declared in 24 counties.

Drought, the report notes, can harm water quality and increase water temperatures, leading to conditions that could give rise to harmful algal blooms and waterborne diseases. Drought conditions also affect agricultural production, which the report notes could lead to an increased use of chemicals that threaten waterways. Fewer crops as the result of a drought could also drive up the cost of food, and increased carbon dioxide concentrations could lower the nutritional value in the crops themselves, the report warns.

“We’re not just talking about polar bears on shrinking ice caps anymore,” said Emily York, who coordinates the state’s Climate and Health Program. “We’re talking about our families and our children. We’re talking about the air that we breathe that will have an impact on our community health.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0304,

tbannow@bendbulletin.com

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