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Home > Feature Articles > Health and Well Being Strategies

California Heat Waves Rising and Costing More in Health Care

More intense, more frequent and longer duration heat waves are projected for California in the coming decades due to global warming.

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Study Links California Hospitalizations to Hotter Weather Thousands Needed Emergency Care During 2006 Heat Wave

Rising temperatures have already impacted the health of thousands of Californians, according to a paper in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), written by scientists at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "The 2006 California Heat Wave: Impacts on Hospitalizations and Emergency Department Visits," describes the enormous health impacts of California’s severe heat wave in 2006. According to a separate analysis by NRDC, these impacts were estimated to have cost California $133 million in health-related costs. More intense, more frequent and longer duration heat waves are projected for California in the coming decades due to global warming.

"As our climate changes with more extreme events, Californians can expect longer, more intense heat waves like the one in the summer of 2006, which means more heat-related illnesses and emergency room visits," said Kim Knowlton, global warming and health scientist with NRDC. "We need to prepare now to prevent some of the worst impacts future heat waves could have on our health as well as act to reduce the number of these events by cutting global warming pollution."

Researchers found that hospital and emergency room visits skyrocketed during a severe heat wave in July 15 – August 1, 2006, resulting in more than 140 confirmed heat-related deaths. During the heat wave, more than 16,000 additional emergency department (ED) visits and nearly 1,200 additional hospitalizations occurred statewide. The majority of people visiting the hospital during the heat wave reported heat-related illness, fluid imbalance, and kidney ailments.

All across California, people suffered because of the heat wave.

  • The San Francisco area reported a 23-fold increase in ED visits for heat-related illness during the heat wave.

  • The Los Angeles region experienced 5,500 additional ED visits and 200 additional hospitalizations.

  • ED visits for heat-related illnesses increased seven-fold in the Central Valley region (including Sacramento) and heat-related hospitalizations increased 17-fold.

Heat waves can be especially harmful to health among the most vulnerable, including children and people age 65 and older.

Among older California residents, a more than 14-fold increase in the number of heat-related hospitalizations occurred.

ED visits also increased for a wide range of other illnesses – including diabetes, kidney and cardiovascular disease – and put many Californians at heightened risk.

Beyond the Golden State, heat waves are damaging human health everywhere.

NRDC has a new online go-to source ( for news and research on the links between global warming and health, including infectious diseases and air pollution, as well as ideas for protecting yourself, your family, and your community. The site includes links to a recent California community vulnerability assessment report that identifies populations at risk for heat-related illness and death, and offers strategies to help prepare individuals and communities for extreme heat events.

“While we can’t say for sure whether or not the 2006 heat wave was caused by global warming, we do know that our climate is getting hotter and hotter, and global warming is certain to cause more violent weather fluctuations,” said David Hawkins, director of NRDC’s Climate Center. “Unless we act now to stop global warming, events like the heat wave of 2006 will be both worse and more frequent.”

To read the EHP article on California, visit: Article Abstract

To read NRDC’s economic analysis, visit: PDF of Economic Analysis

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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