Regional Health Effects - Northeast

At a glance

Each region of the United States experiences climate change and its impacts on health differently. Learn more about climate related health impacts in the Northeast

Temperature-related death and illness

By midcentury, heat index values over 100°F are projected to increase threefold in the Northeast under an intermediate scenario. During extreme heat events, nighttime temperatures in the region’s big cities are generally several degrees higher than in surrounding areas, leading to a higher risk of heat-related death. Temperature extremes are related to a larger fraction of cardiorespiratory deaths in the Northeast and industrial Midwest (compared with other regions), particularly in areas with higher urbanization, older people, fewer White residents, and lower socioeconomic status.

Air quality impacts

Climate change will potentially lead to higher pollen concentrations and longer pollen seasons, causing more people to suffer more health effects from pollen and other allergens. The health burden of pollen is a particular concern for the Northeast. One study found there is 20% more pollen, and the season is roughly three weeks longer in comparison to the 1990 season [2]. People with respiratory illnesses, like asthma, may be more sensitive to pollen. For those whom pollen is an asthma trigger, exposure to pollen has been linked to asthma attacks and increases in hospital admissions for respiratory illness. Already, the Northeast region has seen some of the largest counts of incremental increases in asthma emergency department visits.

Additionally, air quality in the Northeast can be dramatically worsened by distant wildfires from Canada or the Western United States. This was seen in 2023 when wildfires along the western Canada-U.S. border affected the air quality in the northeastern United States [3]. During this event, New York City saw its worst daily mean PM2.5 concentration in over 50 years [3]. Exposure to wildfire smoke has been shown to lead to several negative health outcomes and is a known asthma trigger. Simultaneously, warmer temperatures will worsen near-surface ozone across the United States and further exacerbate respiratory conditions.

Extreme events

Much of the historical development of industry and commerce in New England occurred along rivers, canals, coasts, and other bodies of water. These areas often have a higher density of contaminated sites, waste management facilities, and petroleum storage facilities that are potentially vulnerable to flooding. As a result, increases in flood frequency or severity could increase the spread of contaminants into soils and waterways, resulting in increased risks to human health. When coupled with storm surges, sea level rise can pose severe risks of flooding, with consequent physical and mental health impacts on coastal populations.

Vector-borne diseases

Increased temperatures make some diseases more prevalent in aquatic organisms (e.g., Vibrio species), which are among the most important causes of seafood-borne diseases. Simultaneously, climate change is predicted to expand the geographic range of many disease-carrying insects, such as ticks. Already, there has been an increase in tick-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease, in the Northeast with some documented spread northward into Canada [4].

Water-related illness

Increased soil erosion and agricultural runoff, including manure, fertilizer, and pesticides, are linked to excess nutrient loading of water bodies and subsequent food safety or public health issues. Indeed, harmful algal blooms (HABs) occur more often in the Northeast compared to other regions and are known to induce illness upon either contact with contaminated water or consumption of exposed shellfish. Simultaneously, warmer winters increase pressure from weeds and pests, driving demand for pesticides, and thus increasing the risk of human health effects from increased chemical exposures.

Food safety, nutrition, and distribution

In the Northeast, fish stocks are not only shifting northeastward along the continental shelf into deeper waters, but their distribution is also changing. Warmwater fish remain longer, while cold water species stay for shorter periods. This shift changes when species can be fished. Moreover, there have been documented changes in the life cycle events of the wildlife. For instance, phytoplankton blooms occurred later in recent decades, whereas larval fish occurrence and fish migration are happening earlier.

Simultaneously, the Mid-Atlantic Bight is acidifying faster than other Atlantic coastal regions. Ocean acidification may impact fishery resources, including American lobster, scallops, oysters, clams, and mussels. In the Northeast, scallops are one of the most lucrative fisheries, and acidification will have socio-economic ramifications.

Mental health and well-being

Some Tribal nations and other coastal communities may have to shift their economic or subsistence harvests to new species that are migrating into the region. However, the loss of traditional species or places will likely lead to a loss of cultural practices that will harm physical and mental health and well-being. The loss of access to culturally significant locations and wildlife will harm the physical and mental health of Indigenous peoples.

Populations of concern

Climate impacts compound the environmental, health, and socioeconomic burdens on some communities. Older adults, those living with disabilities or chronic illness, those persons who lack access to air conditioning, living in older homes, socially isolated, or working outdoors are considered particularly vulnerable to the effects of heat.

Additionally, the combination of heat stress and poor urban air quality can pose a major health risk to vulnerable groups: young children, the elderly, socially or linguistically isolated, those who are economically disadvantaged, and those with preexisting health conditions, including asthma.

Similarly, individuals that are socioeconomically disadvantaged , elderly, historically excluded, linguistically or socially isolated, and recently immigrated individuals, as well as those with existing health disparities are more vulnerable to precipitation events and flooding due to a limited ability to prepare for and cope with such events.

Learn more

Download the Factsheet on the Health Impacts of Climate Change in the Northeast

Click here to download the Factsheet.