No One Knows How Many Americans Killed By Extreme Heat

Stephan Müller Pexels

As 100-degree F heat spreads across the US and rises over 110 degrees in some places, hundreds of people are dying from its effects. No one knows how many, and this has become a significant problem. Without the data, it is hard to prove what measures should be taken to protect people from heat levels that take the human body’s temperature to unsurvivable levels.

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Bloomberg recently ran a story about the area around Miami. One study showed that there have been only a few deaths a year recently. Another study showed the figure in the hundreds. Last year, it was estimated that over 600 people died from heat in the Phoenix area. Temperatures there topped 110 degrees F for 54 days. Many experts believe Phoenix deaths were much higher over the period. 

One method to estimate heat deaths is called the “excess death” formula. In extreme heat, how many people died in an area above the typical number of all deaths for that period? It is a crude measure. Another is death certificates. Hospitals often put other reasons on the documents that could be related to heat but not designated as heat-related fatalities.

Public Policy

Heat deaths affect public policy. In cities where hundreds die, there is a chance to change policies. For example, laborers may not be required to work outside when temperatures are above certain levels. Cities can build cooling centers for those who do not have air conditioning.

Without accurate heat death figures, it is hard to shape public policy and investment in the problem. 

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