(Foto: Christina Gareis)

Communities around the world are experiencing the effects of climate change, as summer temperatures and humidity soar and air quality worsens.  News outlets are reporting an extreme and unprecedented heat wave in western Europe, with the United Kingdom experiencing its hottest days on record since record-keeping began nearly 200 years ago. In Portugal and France, thousands of acres of land are ablaze with wildfires triggered by heat and drought – in Portugal, 96% of the country’s land is in severe or extreme drought due to high heat, according to news sources.

The United States is facing similar weather challenges this summer. At the beginning of the summer season, more than 25 cities tied or broke their heat records (as reported by NPR).  A week later, 37 weather monitoring stations in western states reported record-breaking temperatures. California’s Death Valley saw temperatures as high as 122 degrees, and cities in Arizona reached 114 degrees.  This heat wave then moved eastward toward the Mississippi River Valley and the eastern states.

(Foto: Christina Gareis)

Hunting Park is the hottest neighborhood in the summer, on average, compared to any other place in Philadelphia

As temperatures soar to extremes across the country, Hunting Park residents should prepare themselves with cooling plans for the hottest days, as a safety measure.  Extreme heat is very dangerous – and not just for vulnerable residents like children, the elderly, and people with chronic illnesses or physical disabilities.  People who consider themselves completely healthy can also succumb to the stress heat places on the body. Some news outlets have reported stories of UPS and other delivery drivers that have passed out in the street as they delivered packages, due to a lack of air conditioning in their delivery trucks.  Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious threats to all community residents during this season.   

What can Hunting Park residents do to stay safe and avoid sickness? 

During hot days, avoid the heat and stay in air-conditioned spaces. If residents do not have air conditioning in their homes, public places like the mall, library, or even grocery stores can provide some cool relief. Experts advise that blowing a fan that recirculates heat inside a home dehydrates residents faster; instead, people should use vent fans indoors that will help remove the heat from the home.  If a person is unable to stay inside during extreme heat days, then taking breaks in the shade and resting is critical to avoid heat-related illnesses. Additionally, people who have to be outside should avoid direct sunlight, drink plenty of water and remain well-hydrated, and wear light, loose-fitting clothing.  It is imperative that community members look out for one another during this season. The hottest days can bring about poor air quality, which can lead to respiratory illnesses such as asthma. People with a respiratory illness such as asthma should do everything in their power to limit exposure outside.

Climate change plays a major role in the increasing temperature and poor air quality. Exposure to toxins that are found in the soil, water, and air can directly impact a person’s health. Specifically, poor air quality can lead to chronic health conditions such as asthma. Unfortunately, Hunting Park has some of the highest heat indexes and poorest air quality compared to the rest of Philadelphia. Research has suggested that excess heat can make respiratory conditions worse and increase mortality rates. This occurs in Hunting Park because the neighborhood has less green space and more blacktop and concreate areas, which results in higher heat indexes compared to other parts of Philadelphia. In addition to climate change, construction is also a contributor to environmental contamination. For example, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, asbestos, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen oxide are common air pollutants during construction. With high enough exposure, there can be poor effects on people. Also, high levels of construction can lead to increase in noise pollution and poor air quality.

High noise pollution can increase stress and blood pressure levels

(Foto: Christina Gareis)

As a long-term solution, the most important step is planting trees and other greenery, which can help reduce the air temperature and improve air quality. Esperanza has been holding bi-annual tree plantings for the past decade and has succeeded in planting over 1,000 trees in that time. 

Though that may sound like a large number, Hunting Park’s tree canopy is still only 8% (compared to as much as 40% or more in other parts of the city).

Much more is still needed in Hunting Park. Research has shown that trees provide shade and absorb gaseous air pollutants. Also, tree planting is a cost-effective solution and everyone in the community can get involved. Increasing green space is a potential solution to poor air quality, physical health, and mental health. Ensuring that there are more green spaces in the community can help socialization, improve air quality, and can cultivate community wellness. Street trees and yard trees are available at no cost to community residents through Esperanza, and all community residents are welcomed to planting events.

We can all take steps to improve the environmental health of Hunting Park. We can do this by getting involved with Esperanza’s tree planting events and advocating for initiatives that improve air quality and/or reduce extreme temperatures. Everyone, regardless of the neighborhood that they live in, should have access to safe green spaces and good air quality, because every community deserves to live in environmental health and safety.

References:

The Philadelphia Collaborative for Health Equity. (2019). East North Philadelphia Community Health Needs Assessment. https://45hz3a1xf5981hvc1s1toxdx-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/East-North-Phila-CHNA-FINAL.pdf

Department of Public Health City of Philadelphia. (2022). Heat Brochure. https://www.phila.gov/media/20220614120312/heat-brochure-english-2022.pdf

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