Heatwaves associated with increase in deaths

EPA finds high temperatures associated with ‘small but observable’ number of deaths

The potentially deadly scene at Sandymount, Co. Dublin earlier this week. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

The potentially deadly scene at Sandymount, Co. Dublin earlier this week. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times


The current heat wave is highly dangerous and should be avoided by anyone who would rather not die.

Such is the interpretation that might be taken from a well timed report published today by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The report, Extreme Temperatures and Mortality in Ireland, examined seven heatwaves between 1981 and 2006 and the rates of death during the corresponding periods. A heatwave is defined as maximum daily temperature being above 25 degrees for at least two consecutive days.

Perhaps disconcertingly for sun lovers and others hoping the current warm snap, which may yet turn out to be this year’s summer, will last through the weekend, the study found that, in effect, heatwaves kill.

“Overall,” says the report, “a total of 294 excess deaths attributable to heatwaves was estimated, 241 in rural areas, and 53 in urban areas.”

The report characterises the statistical aspect of this as a “small but observable excess mortality” and warns of potentially much wore to come.

“With the perspective of climate change, and with the ageing of the population, it may be that more severe heat episodes result in a larger mortality burden, as was observed during the July 1983 heatwave”, it says gloomily.

The solution? Efforts to avoid adverse health effects should be “proportionate to the risks expected in Ireland”, it suggests which those familiar with Irish weather will probably indicate do absolutely nothing because the sunshoine won;t last very long anyway.

But just in case, the report proffers the idea of a improved surveillance of health data and a “heat warning system to anticipate heatwave episodes”.

Such a system might also serve to prepare the population for the shock effect of prolongued sunshine and blue skies.

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