Individuals unaccustomed to extreme heat may be unaware of the dangers associated with everyday activities.
Exposure to extreme heat is increasing due to climate change and this trend will continue. Exposure to extreme heat can cause potentially deadly illnesses, such as heat exhaustion, heat stroke, heat cramps, hospitalization, and even death. Heat is the leading weather-related killer in the United States year after year. The CDC reports, on average, about 702 deaths each year are heat related. Heat is also responsible for 67,512 emergency department visits and 9,235 hospitalizations each year on average.
Higher temperatures and increased humidity have a compounding effect on heat indexes, making risky health impacts more likely. Areas that are not acclimated to extreme heat may be unaware of the dangers associated with activities typically safe at moderate temperatures. High temperatures can cause playground equipment, pavement, asphalt, turf, and other surfaces to heat to dangerous temperatures threatening the risk of thermal burns and heat-related illnesses. Extreme temperatures can also heat the inside of a car to deadly temperatures in just minutes.
From Park Equipment
One of the dangers of the heat is for children on playground equipment, which reaches dangerous temperatures in the summer. When the air temperature reaches 95°F, rubber jungle gym floors can reach 160 °F after a few hours in the sun. Playground swings and blacktops can reach 150°F and 140°F, respectively. According to the American Burn Association, burns to children can occur in minutes at 120 °F and can take as little as three seconds at 140 °F (source). Between 2010 and 2015, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 1,200 thermal burns associated with playground equipment requiring emergency department visits (source). Always check the temperature of a surface before letting your children play on the playground. Remember that a young child's skin burns faster than your own. If it feels hot to your hand, it may be too hot for a child's bare skin.
Temperatures of common materials and land surfaces at different air temperatures (University of Georgia)
Due to hot pavement and asphalt
Areas accustomed to high temperatures are seeing the number of burns from hot surfaces rise. At 95°F, hot pavement or asphalt in the afternoon in direct sunlight is about 140°F (source). A burn center in Las Vegas stated 13% of serious burn injuries they see are caused by hot pavement. Another hospital in the Phoenix area treated the highest number of burns from hot pavement since the center began tracking in 2000. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of severe burns from hot pavement rose by 49%.
Seniors prone to falls or trouble balancing run the risk of not only injuring themselves in a fall but burning their bodies on hot pavement. Falling becomes even more dangerous when it happens on a hot driveway, sidewalk, or parking lot. On hot pavement, those who need assistance to get up, take a while to get up, or even if it takes a minute to get up could be at risk for severe burns. Keep a blanket or towel in the car if you or a loved one has a history of falls. In the event of a fall, this can be rolled underneath them to protect their skin if they fall and are unable to get up.
Potential triggers for heat-related emergencies
Artificial turf can rise to 156°F in air temperatures of 81°F (source). Even grass in direct sunlight can reach 105°F when the air temperature is 95°F (source). Heat-related illnesses are a real concern for all athletes, parents need to be extra conscious of young athletes who may not know when they need to take a break. This is especially true for sports such as football that require the wearing of heavy protective equipment. Studies have shown that the risk of developing a heat-related illness is 11.4 times higher in football than in all other sports combined. Among high school athletes, the CDC reports that heat illnesses are the leading cause of death. Since 1995, 47 high schools, 13 universities, 2 professional, and 2 youth football players have died from heat stroke (source).
The increasing intensity and frequency of high heat index days also complicate professional and amateur sporting events across the country. In the recent past, heat waves have been responsible for the cancellation of the New York City Triathlon, running events, and horse races (source).
The Regional Plan Association revealed that at an air temperature of 86°F, busy subway platforms in NYC can reach temperatures greater than 100°F. When subways are running poorly, lines become congested, forcing cars to brake and accelerate more often, which is where most of the generated heat comes from. The air conditioning units on trains also discharge a lot of heat into tunnels and stations (source). As dwell times increase, cars stay in a station longer, discharging hot air conditioning exhaust onto the platform (source). However, millions of individuals need to use the subway every day regardless of the weather. When the temperature underground is hotter than extreme temperatures above ground, waiting on a subway platform can pose serious health risks.
At an air temperature of just 73°F the temperature inside a vehicle can reach 100 °F in 25 minutes. 80% of the increase in the vehicle's interior temperature occurs in the first 10 minutes. Opening windows does nothing to slow the heating process or lower the temperature. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, children's body temperature rises three to five times faster than adults. If left in a hot car, a child can die within minutes. More than 1,000 children 14 and younger died of heat stroke between 1990 and 2021 after being left in a hot car (source).
Hot cars are not just dangerous for kids, between 2018 and 2019, 78 pets suffered heat stroke and died in a hot car between. According to the National Weather Service, pets can die of heat stroke in as little as 15 minutes (source). If you see a pet in an unattended vehicle, do not leave it until the problem is resolved. Keep pets at home in hot weather. Animals with flat faces, such as pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke because they can not pant as effectively. These animals, as well as older, overweight animals and those with heart or lung disease, should be kept indoors in air conditioning as much as possible (source).
- How can extreme heat impact health?
- Before a heat wave learn the symptoms and how to recognize them
- Stay cool during a heat wave to prevent heat-related illness