How ‘heat islands’ can harm health

Heat islands—dense urban areas with lots of heat-retaining cement and asphalt, many apartment buildings made of brick or stone, and few trees—can spike 20-50 degrees hotter in the summer than leafy, less-dense suburbs and can pose serious health risks to residents. And heat-related health problems are likely to rise as global warming increases, according to climate change experts from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In a July 5, 2017 segment on WBUR’s CommonHealth that focused on Chelsea, Mass.—one of the hottest areas in Greater Boston—Aaron Bernstein, associate director of Harvard Chan School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment and a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, noted that pitch-black rubberized playground surfaces, which retain heat, could potentially worsen kids’ asthma.

Other health risks from high heat include dehydration and kidney failure, more difficulty with emphysema and other lung conditions, and more heart problems and heat stroke.

People can also be vulnerable not just to high heat but to the kind of drastic temperature changes that can occur in the Northeast—say, when a day jumps from 40 to 80 degrees—noted Francesca Dominici, professor of biostatistics and co-director of the Harvard Data Science Initiative.

Listen to WBUR’s CommonHealth piece: No Tropical Paradise: Urban ‘Heat Islands’ Are Hotbeds For Health Problems