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US unveils plan to address ‘silent killer’ extreme heat

Hurricane Ida Neighbors Helping Neighbors

Louisiana residents still reeling from flooding and damage caused by Hurricane Ida are scrambling for food, gas, water and relief from the oppressive heat, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in New Orleans, La. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is moving to protect workers and communities from extreme heat after a dangerously hot summer that spurred an onslaught of drought-worsened wildfires and caused hundreds of deaths from the Pacific Northwest to hurricane-ravaged Louisiana.

Under a plan announced Monday, the U.S. Departments of Labor and of Health and Human Services as well as other federal agencies are launching actions intended to reduce heat-related illness and protect public health.

White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy called heat stress a “silent killer” that disproportionately affects the poor, elderly and minority groups. While not as dramatic as wildfires or hurricanes, “heat stress is a significant, real threat that has deadly consequences,″ McCarthy said in an interview.

“Many people don’t recognize that heat stress is a real physical problem until it’s too late for them,″ she said.

The effort to address heat stress comes as President Joe Biden is working with world leaders to hammer out next steps against rapidly worsening climate change.

A June heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, exacerbated by climate change, caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of emergency room visits for heat-related illnesses, In Louisiana, more than a million people, including the entire city of New Orleans, lost power when Hurricane Ida struck on Aug. 29. At least 12 of the 28 Ida-related deaths in Louisiana were caused by heat, according to the Louisiana Health Department.

As part of the administration’s plan, the Labor Department is launching a program to protect outdoor workers, including agricultural, construction and delivery workers, as well as those working indoors in warehouses, factories and kitchens. Farm and construction workers are at greatest risk of heat stroke and other problems, the White House said, but other workers lacking climate-controlled environments also face risks.

"Rising temperatures pose an imminent threat to millions of American workers exposed to the elements, to kids in schools without air conditioning, to seniors in nursing homes without cooling resources, and particularly to disadvantaged communities,” Biden said in a statement.

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