For the past three years, we have been asking Maryland residents questions about their understanding of the effects of energy choices and climate change on their health and that of their communities. Marylanders recognize environmental risks to their health, including air pollution and climate change, and want the General Assembly and Governor to prioritize reducing these risks. They understand that energy choices differ in their effects on health, and rate solar and wind as the least harmful.
George Mason University partnered with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in fielding the survey in 2015. This report is one of three released from the 2015 data; other reports highlight attitudes, behaviors and policy preferences on energy, and climate change policies and concerns other than public health.
Key findings include:
1. Most say air pollution and chemicals are the top threats to their health.
- Air pollution (82%) and exposure to chemicals (80%) are the most frequently named “major” or “moderate” personal health risks and have been since 2013.
- Climate change is recognized as a personal health threat by almost two-thirds (63%) of survey respondents.
- A number of the health threats cited more frequently as moderate or major personal risks than climate change include its direct and indirect effects, such as heat waves (53%), polluted water (71%), infectious diseases (74%), and air pollution (82%).
2. Wind and solar energy are not perceived as harmful to health; coal, oil, and nuclear power are perceived as harmful.
- Coal (69%), oil (62%), and nuclear power (57%) are considered “somewhat” or “very harmful” to people’s health by Marylanders. Alternately, two-thirds or more say that wind (69%) and solar (70%) are not at all harmful to public health.
- About two-thirds say air pollution is a personal (68%), family (64%), and community (68%) health concern.
- Very few say the air quality at home is poor or very poor (4%); slightly higher percentages say so for outdoor quality (14%) or where they spend most of their time away from home (16%).
4. Many Marylanders experience chronic health conditions and prolonged stress.
- Hypertension (24%) and arthritis (22%) are the chronic conditions that residents report they have been diagnosed with the most frequently, followed by diabetes (12%), asthma (11%) and cancer (8%).
- Of the 15% who said that someone else in their immediate household had been diagnosed with asthma, half said the person with the most severe case was a child (50%).
- The Southern region of the state alone reported that 50% of its household members with the most severe asthma diagnoses were under the age of 6, compared to 14% in the four westernmost counties, 17% in the Central region, and 17% on the Eastern Shore.
5. Majorities say reducing air pollution and decreasing rates of respiratory disease should be high priorities for the state.
- More than half of Marylanders say the General Assembly and Governor should make lowering the state’s rate of asthma and respiratory disease (59%) and reducing air pollution (68%) a high or very high priority.
- More than half of residents in each of the four regions of the state say respiratory diseases should be a top priority (Western, 51%; Central, 61%; Southern, 51%; Eastern, 58%).
6. Marylanders say that their health – and that of their communities – is vulnerable and harmed by climate change.
- About 7 in 10 Marylanders say they (72%), people in their households (68%), and those in their communities (69%) are vulnerable to the potential health impacts of climate change.
- More than two-thirds say that climate change is already harming them (67%), their community (67%), and people in Maryland (68%).
7. Allergies and respiratory problems top the list of ways residents think their health will worsen due to climate change.
- More than half of Marylanders say climate change will worsen allergies (69%), respiratory and breathing problems (62%), injuries from storms or other extreme weather (58%), and heat stroke 57%).
- Food- and water-borne illness (48%), infectious diseases (37%), and mental health disorders (24%) are less commonly associated with climate change.
The mail survey was fielded from April 11 to June 24 with a response rate of 27%. The unweighted sample margin of error is +/- 2.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence interval for the state and less than +/- 5.7 percentage points for each of four regions of the state.