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A Report on ‘Killer Heat’ Reiterates How Climate Change Puts Vulnerable Populations at the Greatest Risk

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Amid a heat wave, beachgoers pack their belongings near the end of day at Sunset Beach in Huntington Beach, California, on July 21st, 2018.

The Union of Concerned Scientists released a new report, “Killer Heat in the United States,” on Tuesday, warning that if carbon emissions continue at current levels, extreme heat days are expected to rise sharply in frequency and severity over the next few decades. 

The UCS predicts that by mid-century, the number of days with an average heat index (or “feels like” temperature) above 100 degrees Fahrenheit will double, and the number with a heat index over 105 degrees will quadruple. The report notes that an increase in extreme heat could impact the average U.S. resident more than any other effect of climate change, but it still poses the greatest risk for vulnerable populations, including homeless people and outdoor workers. 

Exposure to extreme heat can cause illness and even death. When the heat index reaches 90 degrees, sun stroke, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion become risks, particularly for people who do physical work outdoors. Risks increase and become more serious for more people as the temperature rises; the National Weather Service suggests local heat advisory warnings when temperatures exceed 100 degrees and excessive heat warnings when temperatures rise above 105 degrees.

According to the report, construction workers account for a third of heat-related occupational deaths. Texas and Florida, the two states with the highest concentrations of construction workers, are expected to see an additional month’s worth of days with a heat index above 90 degrees by mid-century, the report finds. 

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