Seven years after the nation’s leading public health group called the long-term threat of climate change “extremely serious,’’ Gov. John Kasich’s appointee to lead the state health department refused to give his opinion on climate change, saying instead, “I am not a scientist.”
Rick Hodges made his comment during a sometimes contentious confirmation hearing before the Senate Health Committee.
Sen. Charleta Tavares, a Columbus Democratic, asked about environmental health issues impacted by climate change. Hodges’ response:
I am not a scientist. I am not prepared to debate the causes of climate change.
ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis said Hodges failure to grasp the threat posed by climate change places him at odds with virtually every respected public health group in the nation and proves he is unqualified to lead the Ohio Department of Health.
“The health director has a vital role in protecting our water and our air,” Theis said. “Just a few months ago, Ohio faced a public health crisis when a toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie prevented a half million people in Toledo from using their tap water for drinking, cooking, or bathing. Climate change is one big reason why this is a growing problem.’’
The Senate should vote to reject his appointment, Theis said.
Three months ago, Toledo faced a three-day tap water ban that sent residents rushing to buy bottled water and caused economic losses to small businesses across northwest Ohio. Drinking or bathing in water with toxic algae can cause nausea, vomiting, and dizziness within hours, harm the liver, and lead to eye, skin, and throat irritation.
State law requires the Director of the Ohio Department of Health must either “hold a degree of doctor of medicine from a medical college approved by the state medical board” or have “significant experience in the public health profession.”
Hodges is not a medical doctor and his health care experience is limited to part-time jobs at a rural hospital where his duties were mainly administrative. Prior to his nomination to lead the health department, he headed the Ohio Turnpike Commission.
In its 2007 report, Addressing the Urgent Threat of Global Climate Change to Public Health and the Environment”the American Public Health Association concluded, “The long-term threat of climate change to global health is extremely serious.”
In 2008, The Centers for Disease Control established its climate and health program, and in 2011 the National Institutes of Health created a similar program.