Exposure to high heat at night can cause health problems

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This NASA Earth Observatory map shows daily high temperatures on July 31.

The effects of high nighttime temperatures, especially on vulnerable populations, are as much of a concern to heat and climate experts Dr Ashley Ward and Dr Luke Parsons as hot, humid summer days.

“While extreme heat in the form of daily temperatures is very serious, what we are increasingly seeing is a strong link between poor health outcomes and consistently high nighttime temperatures, especially when those nighttime temperatures remain at 75 degrees. or more,” Ward said during a press conference Thursday on “Preparing for the next heat wave” hosted by Duke University.

Neighborhood Ashley
Neighborhood Ashley

Ward, the senior policy associate at the new Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability, focused on helping communities develop long-term sustainable solutions. Parsons, a research scientist and lecturer in the Division of Earth and Climate Sciences at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, studies the effect of climate and air pollution on health and well-being humans.

Parsons said for him that heat exposure is a health equity issue. He noted that he was comfortably seated in his air-conditioned home, but not everyone has that luxury. Many people most vulnerable to heat exposure do not have access to air conditioning. “The average middle-to-upper-class person with a higher income in North Carolina probably has more access to air conditioning than a lower-income person”

Ward explained that high nighttime temperatures mean that those who don’t have air conditioning, can’t afford to run their AC or live in less energy-efficient housing are particularly vulnerable, especially if they have health conditions or take prescription medications that interfere with their body’s ability to process heat.

“When nighttime temperatures remain high, what we find is that the body has no chance of recovering from daytime heat exposure, which begins to trigger a series of cascading events. that lead to heat-related illnesses, heatstroke, usually within days sometimes,” she said. This means that to address the growing heat-related risks, “we need to think about structural changes and not just to individuals who are doing their part.We need to create environments that mitigate this risk beyond what individuals can do and this is where community-based approaches are effective.

The many people who have to work outdoors, such as farm workers and construction workers, are another group exposed to extreme humidity and heat – people who cannot come in and cool off in the air conditioning, added Let’s go.

Luke Parson
Luke Parson

Because these workers are unable to calm down, they lose work hours because they have to slow down or take breaks. Parsons said between 50 and 100 hours, or about a week or two, of lost labor occurs every year with $20 billion to $100 billion in lost labor productivity.

“As the globe heats up and heat waves get hotter and more frequent, it’s hotter and wetter outside for these workers, and it’s getting harder and harder for them to do their jobs. safely and efficiently, he said. “They are really impacted during heat waves or just in general when it’s hot and humid during working hours during the day.”

Heat exposure is also costly to the public during emergency room visits. Ward said that in the 2010s, the National Institutes of Health conducted a study of emergency room visits for heat-related illnesses. Based on those estimates and the number of ER visits in the state during the heat, mostly by men between the ages of 15 and 45, it costs residents about $20 million a year.

She added that through previous research with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it was clear people were going to the ER for heat-related illnesses even when temperatures were lower than when the National Weather Service issued advisories. and heat warnings.

Ward’s hypothesis is that when it’s 100 degrees, for example, people take precautions. It’s at slightly lower temperatures, below 96 or 97, when people aren’t as careful and it leads to some of the worst health outcomes. “So there’s not always an alignment with where the health risk is and where the National Weather Service warnings are.”

She noted that in North Carolina, rates of heat-related illnesses are much higher in rural areas than in urban areas for a variety of reasons, and she said this pattern would likely be fairly consistent across a wide swath. from the southeast.

Ward said all the evidence points to an increase in global temperatures, “and what we’re experiencing right now is probably our new normal and, frankly, it’s probably going to get worse. Given that, we need to adapt to this new reality by doing things like increasing the tree canopy in urban spaces, making changes to our building codes that require energy efficient buildings for this new normal and the new normal that is projected over the 30 to 50- year period.

Ward said we must also support policies that help people increase the energy efficiency of their homes, increase protections against occupational heat exposure, and train doctors, midwives and nurses on increased risk of high heat for their pregnant patients.

But the two researchers said we shouldn’t give up on preventing heat waves and trying to find ways to adapt, but that extreme heat linked to climate change should be studied throughout the year.

Parsons said that if we try to limit global warming to about 2 degrees, compared to continuing the status quo of our higher greenhouse gas emissions, about 300 million lost working days per year in the United States United only could be avoided. That’s if we work around the world to limit global warming.

“That being said, we also have to adapt, because in the meantime, until we bend this curve of global warming to slow it down, we are going to continue to see temperatures like we have seen all over the world this summer. maybe. won’t happen every year, but we’ll see this stuff more and more frequently. We need to help protect the communities that can’t protect themselves right now and encourage people to adapt to the warming that we live,” he said.

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