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EPA grant to fund study of extreme heat hazards

Christopher Uejio, an assistant professor in the FSU Department of Geography.

Extreme heat kills more people in the United States than hurricanes, with many victims succumbing to heat inside their own homes.

Now, a Florida State University researcher will use an Environmental Protection Agency research grant to study health outcomes for people vulnerable to extreme building temperatures.

Christopher Uejio, an assistant professor in the FSU Department of Geography, will be the principal investigator on the three-year, $500,000 EPA study, “Indoor Environment and Emergency Response Health Outcomes.” The study’s co-investigator 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) of Atlanta, Ga.

Older adults and people with medical conditions are the most vulnerable to extreme heat, according to Uejio. People in low-income households are also at high risk because they may often have to spend as much as 16 percent 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 said.

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 overburden building cooling techniques to cope with extreme heat, such as the use of shading or increased insulation.