Story at a glance:
- On average, more than 700 Americans die each year from heat-related causes.
- Between 1997 and 2006, heat contributed to the deaths of 5,600 people each year on average, according to one study.
- People who work outside and those who live in low-income neighborhoods without air conditioning are especially vulnerable.
As the first official appointed in the U.S. to focus on heatwaves, Miami’s chief heat officer is warning about the lethal threat of rising temperatures and calling on the federal government to integrate extreme heat protections into its plan for combating climate change.
Jane Gilbert says heat waves are a “silent killer” in the climate crisis, and her county of Miami-Dade is a prime area to see the effects of extreme heat, The Guardian reported.
“In Miami it doesn’t take much of a temperature increase for things to get dangerous,” Gilbert told the outlet. “I hope that heat is integrated into all sorts of thinking on dealing with climate change and infrastructure. We are seeing a growing awareness of this threat across the US from cities, it’s really bubbling up.”
On average, more than 700 Americans die from heat-related causes each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another study found that between 1997 and 2006, 5,600 people died each year on average. The study from the Environmental Epidemiology looked at statistics from 297 counties comprising three-fifths of the U.S. population.
Cooler cities are more vulnerable to the threat of heatwaves, as residents often don’t have air conditioning and other infrastructure to handle warmer temperatures, The Guardian reports. Low-income neighborhoods of color are often hotter than their white counterparts, The Guardian adds.
Only a handful of states have laws that consider people who work outside in the heat. In 2019, just three states had heat-related labor laws: California and Washington protect outdoor workers, and Minnesota protects indoor workers, according to USA Today. In California, for instance, once the temperatures reach 80 degrees, it is the law that workers get filtered drinking water and be provided with shaded areas.
“[Heat] is not an inconvenience or a nuisance,” Marc Schenker, a professor at the University of California-Davis, told USA Today at the time. “It’s very real, with consequences that can range from minor to fatal.”
Florida, on the other hand, only recently passed a bill signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to assist with rising sea levels, but it does not include proposals to ensure workers get adequate shade, regular breaks and drinking water, The Guardian reports.
"At the state level we are moving from very little action to some action related to sea level rise, which we are thrilled about, but we need the state to start looking at increasing heat,” Gilbert said. “There could be investment in green infrastructure, rehabbing substandard housing and action for outdoor workers. There’s a lot more to do.”
On Monday, President Biden announced he will double the amount of money the federal government will spend to prepare for extreme weather events. The administration will spend $1 billion on the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program.
“The number of dangerous days are increasing and we are seeing more complaints over the heat, more skin problems, more instances of diabetes not being as controlled, more injuries when workers get hot and dizzy on the job,” Cheryl Holder, a doctor who will co-lead the taskforce design by Gilbert to add security measures, told The Guardian.
“It will be hard to get change but this is urgent. We really need to address this now,” Holder added.
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