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 / Updated  / Source: NBC News
By Stacey Naggiar

Climate change is harming the health of Americans — making it harder to breathe for some and deathly hot for others, President Barack Obama said Tuesday at Howard University after a roundtable discussion exploring the links between atmospheric conditions and illness.

The event — which included Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy — marked the launch of a series of administration-led actions "that will allow us to better understand, communicate, and reduce the health impacts of climate change," the White House said.

"We’ve got to do better in protecting vulnerable Americans," Obama told reporters. "Ultimately, though, all of our families are going to be vulnerable. You can’t cordon yourself off from air or from climate."

NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar's one-on-one interview with the president on his climate-health initiative will air Wednesday morning on TODAY. A report on that interview also will be posted at

More wildfires mean more tiny particulates are being emitted into the skies, prolonging allergy seasons and inducing more asthma attacks in people that condition, the president said.

Climate change also is associated with higher, overall temperatures and intensified heat waves, exposing more Americans to heat stroke, including those who work outside in jobs like construction and agriculture, Murthy told reporters.

"It means that elderly Americans will be even more vulnerable to respiratory distress and possible death from extreme heat, a problem that we already experience in our cities, particularly among the poor and minority populations who don’t always have easy access to air conditioning," Murthy said.

Also Tuesday, the White House released to the public more than 150 data sets — including research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — detailing various ways climate change is damaging public health.

Companies such as Microsoft and Google now plan to tap the data to create apps and tools "that can help communities educate and protect themselves," Obama said.

"We have medical schools, including Howard, and public health schools pledging to train their students in the health impacts of climate change," Obama said.

Later this week, some of those same educators will go the White House to reveal to the president how they’re infusing lessons on climate change into their teachings. This spring, a climate change and health summit is scheduled to take place at the White House.

"Obviously, this administration has been aggressive in using the administrative authorities that we currently have to increase fuel efficiency standards to make sure that we are taking more carbon out of the emissions from our power plants," Obama said.

"But we’ve got a lot more work to do if we’re going to deal with this problem in an effective way and make sure that our families and our kids are safe."

— NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar contributed to this report.