In the summer of 2017, Internal Medicine Physician and Missoula resident Dr. Tom Roberts suffered a major heart attack, despite having no prior symptoms or risk for heart disease. Roberts’ heart attack occurred during a heavy smoke event. He believes, and there is evidence to support, that the smoke event may have caused his heart attack.
“The health effects of wildfire smoke are real. Fortunately, I was near excellent medical care and did well. Now, I pay close attention to air quality and make good choices about limiting my exposure.” – Tom Roberts, MD
In the West, we are witness to the impacts of changing climate with unprecedented drought, flooding, extreme heat, and fire season starting earlier and lasting longer. Despite our state being spared an early fire season in 2022, 1800 wildfires have burned this year and 70% of our residents live in areas experiencing drought. Record-breaking heat occurred from June through September. Parts of Montana, including Yellowstone National Park, experienced never-before-seen flooding this summer.
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All of these climate events have human health impacts. Extreme heat is the most dangerous weather event in the U.S., killing more people than any other weather event. Drought leads to more fires and decreased food supply. Wildfire smoke causes lung and heart conditions, including heart attack and stroke, cognitive decline and depression. Pregnant women, infants and children, the elderly and outdoor workers, including firefighters, are particularly vulnerable.
A Missoula Pediatrician, Allison Young, participates in the EPA air quality program to signal to families whether air quality is safe or unsafe for sensitive groups by the color of the flag hanging in the waiting room.
“When infants are sent home from the NICU during hazardous air quality conditions, they don’t always realize the importance of filtering indoor air and when extreme heat conditions are co-occurring, opening the windows is hazardous. Families are often faced with an impossible situation to try to keep their infants safe.” – Allison Young, MD
Despite these alarming climate effects, we all have an opportunity to make a real difference in the future of our state. U.S. citizens have a hard-won right to vote and we can exercise and protect this right by voting on Nov. 8. By voting up and down the ballot, we choose not only the state-wide and national candidates, but local city, county, school board members and judges as well.
We are members of MT Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate, an organization formed from a broad coalition of health professionals in the state, working together to address climate change as a public health issue, because the climate crisis threatens the health and future of our communities. We urge each and every voter to make their voice heard and to support candidates who take the climate crisis seriously and pledge to address this important issue at every level of government.
Hillery Daily, ND, LAc Hamilton; Allison Young, MD, FAAP, Missoula; Emory Hoelscher-Hull, student, Montana State University.
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