Death risks rise when heat waves meet air pollutionA recent study has shown that summer in the American West is synonymous with heat and poor quality air — which can lead to severe health problems.


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CLIMATEWIRE | Summer across the American West become synonymous with extreme heat and poor air quality — and that combination can be particularly deadly, according to a recent study.

The University of Southern California conducted a study of more than 1.5 million California deaths between 2014 and 2019. They found that extreme heat and high levels of air pollution increase the risk of death by 21 percent. This is the conclusion These are the results — published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine — highlight the grim toll on human health as temperatures rise, droughts worsen and wildfires become more frequent.

“This is an important co-exposure that’s likely going to increase with frequency with the changing climate, and it’s important to implement different public health interventions and policies to help protect people and save lives,” said Erika Garcia, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of population and health sciences at USC.

Garcia and her co-authors used air quality and temperature data to calculate the death rate for high and low temperatures. The risk of death rose by approximately 6 percent for days of extreme heat and by around 5 percent for days of high levels of fine particulate matter (also known as PM2.5).

The risk of dying from extreme heat or high levels of pollution increased by approximately four times on days with both. The increased risk of respiratory and cardiovascular problems, including systemic inflammation as well as oxidative stress, was partly responsible for the higher death rates. High levels of pollution and temperatures were more dangerous to elderly people than for those under 75.

Extreme heat is defined by a daily maximum temperature at least the 90th per centile and extreme PM2.5 as a daily particulate concentration at least the 95th percentile.

Garcia stated that the results of these studies will be useful for policymakers in developing plans to adapt to dangerous climate conditions and protect vulnerable people.

“This co-occurrence of both [exposures] is really important when thinking about health effects, but also for thinking about, ‘What are interventions and policies that could be implemented to protect folks?’” Garcia said. When both conditions are present, she suggested that the local and state governments could provide safety tips and alerts to residents.

Garcia and other USC researchers are currently working on follow up studies to examine how extreme weather impacts the health of different communities, and how extreme heat or air pollution affect mental well-being.

The study’s findings come at a time when millions of Americans are suffering from above-average temperatures and more frequent wildfires, which send particulate matter into the atmosphere, bringing down air quality in surrounding areas and even other states.

The National Weather Service issued heat advisories and excessive heat warnings yesterday in response to a heat wave that has been affecting large parts of the West and South. These alerts were issued for millions of residents of Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas as well as Nevada, Utah, Nevada, Utah, Nevada, and other states. Texas’ electricity operator asked residents to voluntarily lower their consumption to prevent blackouts.

California is facing the threat of the Washburn Fire, and a prolonged drought has made wildfires even more destructive. The eight largest wildfires in California history occurred in 2017 or later, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the state’s firefighting service.

The California Air Resources Board estimates that 90 percent of Californians breathe unhealthy levels of air pollutants at some point each year, and that reducing PM2.5 levels to “background levels” would save 7,200 lives and prevent 1,900 hospitalizations yearly. Nationally, people with low incomes and people of color are more likely than others to suffer from health problems due to extreme weather events and air pollution.Climatewire, Dec. 10, 2020).

The Biden administration has pledged to cut the country’s planet-warming emissions in half by 2030 and to put the United States on track for net-zero emissions by 2050. But climate experts and policy analysts have expressed pessimism about Congress’ ability to pass climate legislation that would put the country on track to achieve meaningful emissions reductions (ClimatewireJuly 8, 2008.

Reprinted in E&E NewsPermission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.


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