A future of high temperatures and air pollution
This isn’t just a California problem. Climate change will increase exposure to high heat and air pollution in many parts of the country.
Yearly average temperatures in the U.S. are already more than 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than at the beginning of the 1900s. By the end of this century, global temperatures are on pace to be nearly 5 F (2.7 C) warmer. Dangerous extreme heat waves, currently rare, will become more common.
Changing climate is also affecting levels of outdoor fine particulate pollution – for example, through weather changes such as air stagnation events, wind and dust storms, and drier and warmer conditions that contribute to increasingly frequent and intense wildfires.
What to do to stay safe
Further research is needed to better understand these effects, such as the full impact of wildfire smoke exposure. However, enough is known that people should take measures to reduce their risk of harm during periods of extreme heat or air pollution.
That means staying well hydrated and keeping cool. Shopping malls and other air-conditioned public spaces can provide a refuge from heat. Home air conditioning, especially during nighttime, can reduce mortality. A portable air filter in the bedroom can markedly reduce particle pollution levels.
People with symptoms of heat stress, such as headache, nausea, dizziness or confusion, especially the elderly, should seek medical care.
Many county and state health departments already provide alerts about extreme heat and extreme air pollution. Developing a special category of alert during co-occurring extremes may be beneficial to public health.
Governments also need to take steps now to avoid the worst future climate change scenarios. Some best practices for cities include creating cooling shade cover and green space that will also reduce particle pollution.
This article was updated Aug. 31, 2022, with heat advisories in the West.
Erika Garcia, Assistant Professor of Population and Public Health Sciences, University of Southern California; Md Mostafijur Rahman, Postdoctoral Scholar and Research Associate in Environmental Health, University of Southern California, and Rob Scot McConnell, Professor of Population and Public Health Sciences, University of Southern California
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.