Study: Extreme flooding to be annual occurrence on coasts

So-called “100-year” floods — which devastate communities and end lives — will be a yearly occurrence in most coastal communities by the end of the century, a new study predicts.

Published Sept. 13 in Earth’s Future, the study modeled the effect of rising carbon dioxide emissions on global sea levels. Even under a moderate scenario in which emissions peak by 2040, coastal communities can expect to experience extreme floods with increasing regularity, researchers found.

By 2050, some coastal areas could experience 100-year floods every nine to 15 years on average, they estimated.

A 100-year flood is one in which high water levels have a 1 in 100 — or 1% — chance of being exceeded in a given year. While the name originally was used to describe major floods that were a rare occurrence, such extreme flooding is now happening more frequently.

Flooding from Hurricane Ian that drenched southwest and central Florida in 2022 was described as a 500-year event, for example. But stronger climate change-fueled storms are making heavy coastal flooding in the state more common. In the case of Ian, 30,000 homes were damaged in Florida alone and about 150 people died.

To help protect the more than 600 million people who live in low-lying coastal regions, engineers should update their development and flood barrier plans to prepare for climate change, the study’s researchers suggested.

Health care for immigrants not overly costly

Providing public health insurance to immigrants costs less than for people born in the U.S., and health care uptake by immigrants is modest, new research shows.

Covering adult immigrants under Medicaid costs $3,800 a year per person, compared to $9,400 per person per year for those who are born in the U.S. The finding counters the beliefthat providing care to U.S. immigrants comes at heavy expense, according to the study, which was published Sept. 15 in JAMA Network Open.

The study looked at data on more than 44,000 low-income, working-age adults from 2011-2020, by which time most states had expanded Medicaid eligibility to more people. Both immigrants and U.S.-born people who gained coverage increased their use of office-based health visits and dental care.

But increases in prescription-drug refills and visits to outpatient facilities only occurred among the U.S.-born patients.

In general, immigrants to the U.S. tend to have fewer preexisting conditions then people born in the country, often because of healthier lifestyles and diets, previous research has found. The study did not distinguish between immigrants who were in the U.S. with legal permission and those who were not.

With some exceptions, lawfully present immigrants are required to wait at least five years before they can enroll in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, though some states have expanded coverage to all children.

Surveys show that about half of U.S. citizens are opposed to public health insurance coverage of immigrants, sometimes based on the assumption that the newcomers are a fiscal liability, the researchers noted.

Highly physical careers may raise dementia risks

People who spend their careers in physically demanding occupations are at higher risk for cognitive impairment later in life, according to new findings.

Researchers examined information on more than 7,000 older adults, finding that those who had consistently worked in a job that required medium or high physical activity were more likely to have cognitive impairment than people who worked in jobs that required low physical effort.

Those who had worked in highly physically occupations — such as nursing, health-care assistance, farming and cleaning — had a 15.5% risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia. In comparison, those with more sedentary careers had only a 9% risk, according to the study, which was published in The Lancet Regional Health-Europe.

While the exact reason for the disparity is not known, researchers suggested factors that are common in physical work, such as long work hours, rigid schedules and not enough time for recuperation, may impact brain health. It is also possible some people with lower cognitive abilities early in life are drawn to more physical jobs to begin with, they said.

More than 55 million people around the world have dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is expected to increase significantly as the older population swells. Researchers predict as many as 150 million people globally could have dementia by 2040.

Youth violence poses high cost to U.S.

Youth violence not only harms and ends thousands of lives annually in the U.S. It also poses an enormous economic burden on the nation, a new study by federal researchers finds.

In 2020, the economic burden of youth violence — including medical care, lost productivity, reduced quality of life and avoidable death — reached $122 billion, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers.

Most of the youth homicides that year were firearm-related and occurred among males, according to the analysis, which was published Sept. 18 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Youth homicides spiked significantly with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with about 6,750 deaths in 2020, compared to 4,900 in 2019. The surge led to a 17% year-to-year increase in the economic burden of youth violence, the study said.

Deaths were not the only outcome of youth violence. More than 303,000 people ages 10-24 visited emergency departments for youth-related violence in 2020; being struck was the most common cause of non-fatal injuries. Reduced quality of life from injuries caused by youth violence cost the nation $38 billion alone in 2020, the study said.

Groups sue EPA over chemical pollution risks

A new lawsuit alleges that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has failed in its duty to protect Americans from the dangers of polyether polyol manufacturing and calls on the agency to act.

Filed Sept. 18 in U.S. District Court by three environmental groups, the lawsuit asserts that the EPA’s 2014 standards for facilities that manufacture polyether polyol chemicals are outdated and do not adequately protect neighboring communities.

While the 2014 standards were aimed at reducing emissions from polyether polyol manufacturers, the plaintiffs, represented by Earthjustice, said the rules do not go far enough to protect surrounding communities from toxic pollution.

Polyether polyols are used in making products such as soap, cosmetics, lubricants, adhesives and moldable foam, such as for use in furniture. Facilities that manufacture the chemicals are known to emit hazardous air pollutants, including ethylene oxide, which the EPA classified as a human carcinogen in 2016. Besides posing cancer risks when inhaled, ethylene oxide can also cause brain and reproductive system damage.

In light of those dangers, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General recommended in 2021 that the agency conduct a new risk review related to ethylene oxide emission sources. The lawsuit plaintiffs called for the agency to comply with the recommendation and to set stringent limits for emission points.

Most of the nation’s two dozen polyether polyol facilities are concentrated in Louisiana, Texas and West Virginia, including five in the Houston Ship Channel, and are often located near communities of color.

The Watch is written by Michele Late, who has more than two decades of experience as a public-health journalist.