Extreme Heat Costs Us in More Ways Than One

Lost productivity is a very real problem
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 31, 2023 10:10 AM CDT
Extreme Heat Costs Us in More Ways Than One
People are seen drinking water on July 17 in Phoenix.   (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Phoenix smoldered through its 31st day in a row of temps of 110 degrees Fahrenheit or above on Sunday, putting an exclamation point on what's set to have been the hottest month ever recorded. USA Today reports August is scheduled to bring some relief to the Northeast but none for the Southeast; the desert Southwest and Four Corners region may see "monsoonal rainfall" early in the week, per the National Weather Service.

The New York Times looks at the economic costs of the blazing temps, and suggests the financial impact might take a different shape than you'd expect. Yes, "dying crops, spiking insurance rates, [and] flooded properties" take a huge toll, but weakened productivity in industrial and other labor-intensive industries may be one of the biggest costs. One study that looked at agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and service sectors found 2.5 billion hours of labor were lost due to heat in 2021. To wit, one Midwest construction company says workers in Detroit have had to call it quits three hours early on a number of days due to heat.

The Times notes there are no federal rules in place regarding employees and extreme heat, and there's resistance to putting national regulations in place, with businesses citing the high potential costs of water and shade breaks or the required installation of air conditioning. The Times reports the National Beef slaughterhouse in Dodge City, Kansas, has fans, not AC; workers must wear heavy aprons and helmets and sanitize their equipment with 180-degree water. One worker says that with temps around 100 degrees, it's difficult to make it through a full shift. A union rep for meatpacking and food processing workers in the region adds that safety glasses fog up in the intense heat, making it difficult to see.

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The AP looks not at the financial toll, but the human one. On Wednesday in Phoenix—day 27 of 110-degree-plus temps—nine people died indoors; all were in uncooled environments. As research has confirmed, it's the poorest and people of color who are least likely to have air conditioning. The cost of installing it is out of reach for many. Denver resident Ben Gallegos, 68, lives on about $1,000 a month. "Take me about 12 years to save up for something like that," he said of air conditioning. Instead, he uses mattress foam on his windows to try to insulate from the heat and sleeps in his concrete basement. "If it's hard to breathe, I'll get down to emergency," he says. (More extreme heat stories.)

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