Heat deaths will rise, study says

Climatologist says global warming will double fatalities in 50 years

September 06, 2007|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN Reporter

Global warming will cause the number of heat-related deaths in Baltimore and other cities to more than double within 50 years, according to a report paid for by environmental groups.

The number of summer days in Baltimore with temperatures above 101 is expected to rise from about six a year to 16 annually by the middle of the century, says the study co-written by climatologist Laurence S. Kalkstein of the University of Miami and a colleague.

As a result, more people will die, Kalkstein predicts. About 48 people in the Baltimore area die of heat-related causes each year, and that will rise to about 141 a year, his report says.

The 2,232 additional deaths caused by global warming by mid-century will be the fourth-largest rise in 21 cities examined nationally, after New York ( 3,888 additional deaths), Philadelphia (3,528) and Chicago (3,192), according to the report, which was funded by the National Environmental Trust, a nonprofit group.

"I think this really brings home one of the real-life impacts that we are bound to see from global warming," said Brad Heavner, executive director of Environment Maryland, which distributed the report. "The tricky thing is, we need to act now to make sure it doesn't get even worse."

Environment Maryland is working with Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility and other groups to push the state to adopt tougher limits on greenhouse gases.

Kalkstein's figures for current annual deaths are many times higher than those recorded by the state medical examiner's office. The agency has reported 18 heat-related deaths, including three in the Baltimore area, this year. There were about 40 heat-related deaths in Maryland last year, 47 in 2005, three in 2003 and about 50 in 2002, according to state figures.

Kalkstein said his estimates were higher and not meant to be "precise," because he was basing the current figure on a 30-year-average and using a broader definition of any kind of additional deaths that occur in warmer months compared with cooler months. Such deaths can be from any cause, including heart attack and stroke, Kalkstein said. The state uses a stricter definition in counting heat-related deaths.

Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein said he had not seen Kalkstein's report but that it is "plausible" that there are different valid methods to estimate heat-related deaths.

The city is working to prevent heat-related deaths, for example by opening 10 air-conditioned centers this summer.

"Rising temperatures don't necessarily mean rising deaths," Sharfstein said. "But it means that the city will have to work harder to prevent deaths."

tom.pelton@baltsun.com

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