Environmental refuges to escape the heat

May 1, 2024


On April 30, the Salt Lake County Health Department’s 2024 Climate & Health Symposium brought together experts, including University of Utah scientists, to talk about how climate change impacts human health.

One speaker was Daniel Mendoza, research assistant professor in atmospheric sciences; adjunct assistant professor in internal medicine; and adjunct assistant professor in City & Metropolitan Planning at the U.

Mendoza presented a case study, titled Environmental refuges during summertime heat and elevated ozone levels: A preliminary case study of an urban “cool zone” building. Mendoza and coauthors measured indoor and outdoor temperature and ozone levels at the Millcreek library, a building designated as a “cool zone” for the public to escape increasingly hostile environment extremes by climate change.

Mendoza spoke with AtTheU about environmental refuges in advance of the event and how cities can better protect vulnerable individuals.

How are heat and health related?

In Utah, we’re very aware of air quality-related health concerns, but we’re not as aware of the dangers of extreme heat. As the climate changes we need to pay attention to elevated temperatures, not only during the day, but also the temperature at night.

There’s lots of attention when we hit record highs, but they obviously happen during the middle of the day where there are many opportunities to seek refuge in venues with air conditioning. We’re generally at work or at school or can go to the store, for example, because these places are open when its hottest. High temperatures during the evening are more insidious—you’re very vulnerable to your environment while you’re sleeping, especially for children, the elderly, or people with chronic health issues. When it’s too hot at night, you’re not recovering at a cellular level. This can cause chronic health issues that for some, can lead to strokes, among other negative effects. We always see an uptick in heat-related illness in the ER during heat waves.

Read the rest of the interview by Lisa Potter in @ The U.