A new study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the University of California San Francisco suggests that climate change events, like Colorado wildfires, bear an even bigger cost than previously considered.

The study gathered 2012 data from 11 different states on a variety of impacts on public health by natural disasters and climate change occurrences. The study estimates that the wildfires resulted in 174 deaths, and 256 hospital admissions, and cost Colorado over $1.6 billion dollars. This includes mortality costs, healthcare costs, and lost wages.

Smoke from Colorado’s wildfires of 2012 wreaked havoc on public health, resulting in mortality and a variety of respiratory diseases in many Colorado residents, especially older individuals already at risk.

With most cost analysis of climate change being focused on damage to property, infrastructure, and agriculture, the public health cost has flown under the radar.

“Climate change represents a major public health emergency. But its destructive and expensive toll on Americans’ health has largely been absent from the climate policy debate,” said study lead author Dr. Vijay Limaye, a scientist in NRDC’s Science Center, in a press release.  “Our research shows that health-related costs added at least another 26 percent to the national price tag for 2012 severe weather-related damages.”

With the last five years being the hottest years on record, the public health tolls and costs associated with climate change have likely continued and possibly even risen. Of the 20 largest wildfires in recorded Colorado history, 25 percent occurred in 2018 alone.