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EPA Grant Will Fund Study of Extreme Heat Hazards

An assistant professor in the Department of Geography at Florida State University will be the principal investigator on a $500,000 three-year research grant awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The grant will fund a study of health outcomes for people vulnerable to extreme building temperatures.

Christopher Uejio will lead the research on the project “Indoor Environment and Emergency Response Health Outcomes.” Co-investigator on the study is James Tamerius of the University of Iowa, one of three institutional partners in the research, along with the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) and Grady Emergency Medical Service (EMS) in Atlanta, Ga.

According to Uejio, the study is important because in the U.S., extreme heat kills more people than hurricanes or any other weather hazard. Many victims succumb to heat inside of their own homes. Older adults and people with medical conditions are the most vulnerable. People in low-income households are also at high risk because they may often have to spend as much as 16% of their total income on electricity, forcing them to conserve by cutting back on air conditioning.

“Temperatures inside buildings without air conditioning are often more oppressive than outdoor temperatures, yet residents may not be aware of dangerous situations because official heat warnings are based on outdoor weather conditions,” Uejio says.

The study will seek to answer three questions. First, what building characteristics increase indoor heat exposure? Second, are people who live in hotter buildings more likely to report extreme heat health problems? Third, how will future climate change increase indoor heat exposures?

As part of the study, paramedics from FDNY and Grady EMS will carry portable temperature and humidity sensors during their normal operations to gauge conditions in places where people seek emergency care for complications due to extreme heat.

The results can direct interventions to the most vulnerable people and improve official heat warnings, Uejio says. The study will also identify how future temperature increases may constrain the options to cope with extreme heat, e.g. overburdening building cooling techniques such as shading or increased insulation.