Oregon Health Authority Report Finds Devastating Public Health Impacts from Climate Change in Oregon, Underscoring Urgent Need for Legislative Action to Pass the Climate Resilience Package

June 22, 2023

Media Contact
Kat Driessen, kat@empirical.media

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Health Authority today released a comprehensive report on the public health impacts of climate change in Oregon. The “2021-2022 Climate and Health in Oregon Report” concludes that extreme weather events and climate-related disasters such as extreme heat and drought, and chronic climate stressors such as water and food insecurity, pose an existential threat to the health of all Oregonians, and underscores this is a reality that is here to stay. 

The OHA report includes extensive data detailing the severe climate change impacts affecting Oregonians, and the disproportionate harms to the health and safety of children, the elderly, people of color, and lower income Oregonians, as well as outdoor workers on the frontlines of climate hazards. Key findings from the report include: 

  • 242 percent more heat-related illness visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers than in 2020, with people from areas with median household incomes below $50,000 making up 60 percent of patients. 
  • 167 heat-related deaths in 28 different cities across Oregon, with people of color making up a disproportion of victims. 
  • 1.3 million acres burned by more than 4,200 wildfires across the state.
  • For people living in Central, Eastern and Southern Oregon, the cumulative smoke impacts of 2021 wildfires equaled and sometimes exceeded 2020. 
  • Communities in Eastern Oregon experienced a 24-fold increase in the number of days with PM2.5 levels Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. 
  • Nearly every county in Oregon experienced severe to exceptional drought, leading to reduced water access and water quality.

The OHA report comes with just days remaining in the 2023 legislative session, with more than a dozen widely supported, bipartisan bills–the Climate Resilience Package (HB 3409)–to fight climate change and protect the health of Oregon families, workers, and local economies awaiting final passagevotes in the House and Senate. 

“This report is yet another wake-up call for Oregon,” said Nora Apter, climate program director for the Oregon Environmental Council. “Without urgent policy action to drive down climate pollution and protect the lives and livelihoods of Oregonians, we risk locking in an ever-more grim future for Oregon’s children and grandchildren. Oregon lawmakers must take heed of these findings from the Oregon Health Authority and pass the Climate Resilience Package without delay.” 

“The Oregon Health Authority’s report confirms what frontline communities know too well: we need fast action on climate to save lives and prevent more suffering. One important solution is community resilience hubs, which will make communities stronger before, during, and after disasters like the smoke and wildfires that regularly affect me and my family members in the Eugene area,” said Joel Iboa, executive director for the Oregon Just Transition Alliance. “The Climate Resilience Package will provide essential resources and support so that frontline communities can withstand and recover from climate disasters. With climate change breathing down our necks, we need legislators to pass concrete resources and solutions like this so that all Oregonians can thrive, no matter where we live or who we are.”

OHA’s report highlights the groundbreaking responses from community-based organizations, local jurisdictions, Tribes, and state and federal governments to these unprecedented climate challenges. These include efforts to reduce climate and health impacts and strengthen community resilience and equity, such as through improved water infrastructure, wildfire risk mapping, and retrofits to improve the air quality and efficiency of homes and buildings. This report builds on OHA’s 2021 study on climate change impacts to youth mental health in Oregon

 “As a young Oregonian who has grown up with climate change as not only an existential threat, but a reality, this report is yet another reminder about the future my generation is inheriting,” said Adah Crandall, a 2023 Grant High School graduate who graduated a year early because of the urgency she feels about the climate crisis. “I can’t stand to spend another year sitting in a high school classroom as my generation’s future burns. Our futures are on the line. It is crucial that our legislators prioritize the Climate Resilience Package. The climate can’t wait, and neither can we.”

 “The shocking data in this report amplifies the devastation that so many of us–our friends, family members, neighbors–have already experienced firsthand,” said Rene Braga, Rogue Valley community organizer with Unite Oregon. “We know that our homes and buildings are our first defense from climate-fueled extreme heat and wildfire smoke. Lawmakers must act urgently to invest in resilient, efficient, and affordable buildings that protect the health and safety of our loved ones and community members. With future climate disasters an unfortunate inevitability, the legislature has an obligation to act now.”

“Oregon farmers and ranchers have been leaders in adopting conservation practices. The Climate Resilience Package will ensure that we can continue to fund research and support on the ground practices that build resilience to climate extremes,” says Tom Rietmann of Rietmann Ranch in Condon, Oregon. “Oregon can’t miss out on the opportunity to take advantage of federal money and this package will help make sure we stay ahead of the curve.”

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