From elevated rates of respiratory disorders to wild weather patterns, climate change is taking a toll on St. Louis and the rest of the nation.
That was the basic message from environmentalists and public officials during a community meeting held at Greater Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in St. Louis City.
The event was especially focused on air quality in St. Louis.
“Greenhouse gases and climate change can raise the incident rates of asthma,” said Karl Brooks, regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. “Asthma is a serious public health problem in St. Louis."
Some parts of the region do not currently meet federal air quality standards for ground-level ozone, an air pollutant that can damage lung tissue when inhaled, according to the EPA. With that in mind, asthma information was handed out to community members along with free mattress covers intended to help children who are experiencing symptoms related to asthma.
Executive director of the St. Louis Coalition for Inclusion and Equity, Romona Williams, said events like the one held on Saturday represent a shift in the environmental movement. Moving forward, she said, the focus should broaden to look at the larger social and economic impacts of climate change.
“Climate change is everything to us,” Williams said. “Low income and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change.”
Children under five-years old in economically disadvantaged areas of St. Louis City and County are especially susceptible to asthma, according to a St. Louis Regional Health Commission study. That same study found that: "African-American children in the region are 7.5 times more likely to visit the emergency room for asthma than Caucasian children."
St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman also spoke during the event, and said he’s been troubled by recent extreme weather events that have leveled homes in parts of the county. From floods, to drought, to tornadoes, Zimmerman and other speakers said a rapidly changing climate is leading to the greater frequency of extreme weather events.
“To Me, climate change is not a hypothetical issue, it’s not a problem for scientists in an ivory tower,” Zimmerman said. “It’s something that’s affecting us right here, in our community.”