Sustainability Environment

Death risk soars with exposure to extreme heat and air pollution the same day: study

A study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found that on days where extreme heat and air pollution converge, the risk of death increases by 21 percent.
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Story at a glance


  • Researchers gathered data on more than 1.5 million deaths in California between 2014 and 2019 using death certificate information from California’s Department of Public Health and data on temperature levels and air particulate matter.

  • The team then used the data to link deaths with individuals home addresses and placed conditions into four categories: no extreme exposure, extreme heat only, extreme air pollution only, or extreme heat and air pollution. 

  • There was a 36.2% increase in mortality risk for people over 75. 

The risk of death increases both on days where one is exposed to extreme heat or air pollution, but the danger soars on days where the two combine.  

A study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found that on days when extreme heat and air pollution converge, the risk of death increases by 21 percent.  

“Understanding the risks associated with these exposures is really important, because we know that they will increase with climate change in many different parts of the United States and the world,” said Erika Garcia, the study’s senior author. 

Researchers gathered data on more than 1.5 million deaths in California between 2014 and 2019 using death certificate information from California’s Department of Public Health and data on temperature levels and air particulate matter.  

The team then used the data to link deaths with individuals home addresses and placed conditions into four categories: no extreme exposure, extreme heat only, extreme air pollution only, or extreme heat and air pollution. 

Alongside the elevated risk of death due to the combination of extreme heat and air pollution, the researchers found that one’s chance of death due to cardiovascular problems increased by 29.9 percent while the risk of death from respiratory issues rose 38 percent.  

There was a 36.2 percent increase in mortality risk for people over 75, while people under 75 faced an 8.5 percent increase in mortality risk when exposed to both extreme heat and pollution. 

Garcia said the new research could instruct policymakers how to advise residents to deal with the twin risks on days when they’re present.  

“If certain communities face an increased risk when these exposures occur, that will highlight an important target for interventions,” he said. 


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A separate study published last week found that above average exposure to outdoor air pollution increases the overall risk of death by 20 percent and by 17 percent from cardiovascular disease. 

For the study, New York University researchers analyzed health data collected from more than 50,000 rural, primarily poor Iranians over the age of 40 who submitted to annual health visits beginning in 2004. Then they used the data to create a predictive model to measure overall chance of death and death from heart disease.   

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