Doctor: Higher carbon dioxide levels could lead to health issues

Published: Sep. 27, 2019 at 5:15 PM CDT
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A Texas A&M oceanography researcher is raising concerns about the levels of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Yige Zhang is an author on the study that shows that for the entire 2.5 million years of the Pleistocene era, carbon dioxide concentrations averaged 250 parts per million. Today’s levels, by comparison, are more than 410 parts per million.

“According to this research, from the first Homo erectus, which is currently dated to 2.1 to1.8 million years ago, until 1965, we have lived in a low-carbon dioxide environment — concentrations were less than 320 parts per million,” said Zhang.

Then, in 1965, Earth’s carbon dioxide atmospheric concentrations exceeded 320 parts per million, a high point never reached in the past 2.5 million years, the study shows.

Why the relatively sudden increase in carbon dioxide?

“That’s because of the utilization of fossil fuel,” said Zhang. “The burning of fossil fuel releases a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and some of them have been absorbed by the ocean, by forests—they went away—but the majority of them are staying in this atmosphere.”

Dr. Seth Sullivan with Baylor Scott & White Health is also the Brazos County Alternate Health Authority. On First News at Four, he explained what we know about carbon dioxide’s effects on our bodies.

“I don’t know that we know a lot,” said Dr. Sullivan. “We’re learning a lot.”

Dr. Sullivan says more and more research has been conducted in recent years, and it’s found a smattering of health issues from high carbon dioxide levels.

“Our lungs are designed to breathe fresh, clean air,” said Dr. Sullivan. “Anytime there’s anything that disturbs that…then we can have some responses to that.”

Research suggests that as carbon dioxide levels increase, so do pollination levels and the release of plant allergens.

“And of course with carbon dioxide emissions and everything else that we’ve talked about with particulate and pollution and how that affects us from our respiratory health and from our allergies that are there,” Dr. Sullivan says.

For the full conversations with Zhang and Sullivan, see the video player above.

Jiawei Da, Xianqiang Meng, and Junfeng Ji, all of Nanjing University in China, and Gen Li of the California Institute of Technology co-authored the research.