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DRI Study Shows Rise In Heat-Related Deaths

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Gerard Burkhart /AFP/Getty Images

Rising temperatures in Las Vegas are leading to an increase in heat-related deaths, according to a new study by the Desert Research Institute.

Lead researcher Dr. Erick Bandala told State of Nevada that between 2007 and 2016, heat waves in the city got more frequent and more severe, a trend that was fueled by climate change and made worse by urban heat islands – parts of the city where asphalt and concrete absorb heat from the sun and limit cooling at night.

Bandala and his colleagues initially decided to look at extreme heat events while they were talking about how much hotter Las Vegas has seemed in recent years, which prompted them to want to know if that were really true. 

“We started collecting information from the database on the temperature that we have in Las Vegas,” he said. “What we found is that It is an increase of the temperature for the last decade.”

Then, they correlated those findings with data from the coroner’s office, which revealed that heat-related deaths also rose sharply, from seven deaths in 2007 to a high of more than 45 in 2016.

“Both trends move in the same way,” Bandala explained. “When the temperature peaks, the amount of people dying peaks. And when the temperature goes down, also the amount of affected people goes down.

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While extreme weather-related disasters like unusually powerful hurricanes or huge wildfires get a lot of attention, less visible problems like heat waves also pose a grave risk to the population.

“This is a less-known event that is hurting people,” Bandala said.

And the problem isn’t just confined to Las Vegas – other studies show that heat-related deaths are on the rise across the country.

“It’s happening everywhere,” he said.

The growing number of heat-related deaths may also be related to demographic trends. The study shows that heat waves primarily threaten older residents with pre-existing health conditions like heart disease.

Bandala explained that as more Americans retire in Nevada, the population of vulnerable people in the state is growing.

But extreme heat doesn’t only put the older population at risk. Bandala also said that heat-related deaths were linked to alcohol and drug abuse. Because of that, he cautioned visitors against going on desert hikes after a night of hard partying.

“In this case, you’re risking your life,” he said.

Bandala also addressed skepticism about the scientific consensus that human activity is driving global climate change, saying he prefers to think optimistically.

If rising temperatures really did reflect a natural cycle and were therefore beyond human control, it would be impossible to reverse the trends. But in the case that human activity is leading to global temperature change – a conclusion supported by the overwhelming majority of scientific researchers – Bandala says people can take steps to limit the threat.

“We can make the decision and do the proper thing to prevent it.”

Guests

Erick Bandala, lead researcher, Desert Research Institute

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