Minority populations more likely to suffer, need medical care in the heat

According to the CDC, Indigenous and Black people have the highest number of heat-related deaths.

TaRhonda Thomas Image
Monday, August 8, 2022
Minority populations more likely to suffer in the heat
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The extreme heat impacts everyone, but some communities are hit harder than others.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Jerome Shabazz smiles as he admires the branches of a fruit tree growing on the back lot of The Overbrook Environmental Education Center in the city's Overbrook section.

As he touches a pomegranate growing on the tree, he asks "Isn't that something?"

It's a sight to him because he says growing pomegranates in Philadelphia is unusual.

"(It's) a sign of the heat change," he said of the fruit's ability to thrive in the middle of the city.

As executive director of Overbrook Environmental Education Center, Shabazz has been keeping track of climbing temperatures over the years, and over the past week, as temperatures have consistently soared into the 90s.

"The heat is very noticeable," he said.

Some neighborhoods notice it more than others.

"African Americans and Latinos are bearing the greater brunt of a variety of environmental impacts," said Shabazz.

According to the CDC, Indigenous and Black people have the highest number of heat-related deaths.

A study from the Wilderness and Environmental Medicine Journal found that the number of heat-related emergency room visits rose 67% for African Americans from 2005 to 2015.

The figure rose 63% for Hispanics and 53% for Asian Americans.

The same statistic for heat-related emergency room visits rose 27% for whites in that same timeframe.

"Those disparities are real," said Shabazz.

Minorities make up more of the population in areas known as urban heat islands with fewer trees and more asphalt.

"Some neighborhoods of the city can be up to 22 degrees hotter than other neighborhoods," said Erica Smith Fichman, who is Philadelphia's community forestry manager and the project lead for Philly Tree Plan, which is run by Philadelphia Parks and Rec.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health created a heat vulnerability map to show the areas where people are most at risk for heat-related health issues:

Two of the most vulnerable places are Kensington and Fairhill. Both have higher minority populations and lower incomes.

It's why the Philly Tree Program is creating a ten-year plan to plant trees in neighborhoods that need them.

"If there are parks that need tree canopy we will plant the trees there," said Fichman. "If they want street trees, we'll plant the trees there. If they want more yard trees, we'll do giveaways."

Philly Tree Program and Overbrook Environmental Education Center are two programs that share the goals of environmental impacts that will have an effect lasting far beyond the heat wave.

"The goal for us is to make certain that people are ahead of the issue and not behind it," said Shabazz.

Philly Tree Program got community input to develop its plan to plant trees across the area. The plan will be released this fall. For more information, visit this page on Phila.gov.