AUGUSTA – Warm weather is here, and with that comes unique health challenges when enjoying the great outdoors: hotter, heavier air and allergens complicate asthma, and the specter of tick bite-related illness looms again. In Maine, one of the fastest warming areas in the country, these challenges have only become more complex.
Last Thursday in Capitol Park, Maine Conservation Voters raised awareness around the impact of these challenges on the health of Maine families. Dr. Tony Owens, an attending physician at Maine Medical Center, shared his experiences: “As a practicing Emergency Department physician with 40 years of experience in Maine, the rate of increase in tick borne illness that I am seeing is truly alarming. With our warming climate, more ticks are surviving winter and emerging to feed earlier in the spring. These ticks carry with them a multitude of illnesses literally unheard of when I started practice. Not uncommonly a single tick will harbor several different infections. It has radically changed my approach to my patients.”
The crowd also heard from Maine sportsman Bobby Reynolds, an avid hunter and angler: “Each Spring I see ever-increasing numbers of ticks in the Maine woods. And, each year I learn of more and more hunters who give up the sport specifically due to the illness concerns associated with being bit by one of these little critters. If revenues from the sale of licenses and hunting equipment decline due to people leaving the sport, Maine’s economy will suffer. Waiting to take action is not an option. Our State’s heritage is too valuable to put at risk.”
The increasing incidence of asthma was also discussed, with Maine having the third highest asthma rate in the nation. Indeed, studies have shown that air pollution from other regions of the country are funneled to Maine’s southern and coastal areas, greatly affecting the air quality compared to other parts of the state. Accordingly, the event underscored the necessity of tackling pollution and climate change issues at both the local and national levels.
The Maine Public Health Association was in attendance, represented by Policy Associate Joe Boucher. “Climate change threatens public health. It causes more extreme weather events, worsens air quality, and increases the prevalence of vector-borne diseases, including Lyme from ticks. We should be doing whatever we can to assure that all Mainers have the opportunity to lead healthy lives, including continuing our participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and supporting Clean Car Standards.”
MCV Advocacy Coordinator Stephanie Miles also noted the importance of calling on our legislators to address climate change to combat these issues. “Climate change impacts our marine fisheries, our farms, our property and our health. Today we are focusing on the health impacts like Lyme disease and asthma. May is both Lyme Disease and Asthma awareness month. We thank Senators Collins and King and Rep. Pingree for their demonstrated leadership on climate change. And we call on Rep. Poliquin to be a leader as well.”
Mainers interested in taking action can sign MCV’s Clean Energy Pledge on their website, maineconservation.org.