Summer officially arrived today – along with the season’s soaring temperatures. And while Boston is typically known for its long, challenging winters, its neighborhoods are also home to some of the largest heat disparities in the country.
“Low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected by extreme heat,” says Melanie Haines, MD, of the Mass General Neuroendocrine Unit, associate member of the Mass General Center for the Environment and Health. “We often see those neighborhoods – which have more pavement, buildings and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat – get up to 40 degrees warmer than surrounding neighborhoods with more trees and vegetation.”
This summer, Haines is partnering with Communities Responding to Extreme Weather (CREW) of Cambridge to host three free workshops to address these disparities and provide attendees with the tools and knowledge they need to stay safe during extreme heat events.
The workshops begin with community-building activities, food and socialization before Haines and the Rev. Vernon K. Walker, CREW’s senior project manager, present about preventing adverse health effects during extreme weather. At the end of each event, heat relief kits are given to all attendees and 10 air conditioning units are given away.
“It’s important that we provide physical resources like air conditioning units heat relief kits to underserved members of the community,” Haines says. “We also realize cooling a home can be expensive, so we help people learn where they can get financial assistance to pay for electricity. The last thing we want to do is provide someone with an air conditioning unit they can’t afford to use.”
The workshops also address the impacts heat can have on people’s health. It’s currently the deadliest extreme weather event, causing more than 2,000 deaths per year in the U.S.
“People often think about tornadoes and hurricanes when they think of deadly weather events, but more people die each year from heat than any other extreme weather,” Haines says. “It’s associated with exacerbations of cardiovascular and respiratory disease, kidney disease, pregnancy complications and mental health issues. It’s a much larger problem than many people think.”
Haines hopes the workshops will help Bostonians understand the gravity of extreme heat and prepare for heat waves this summer. To register the June 23 workshop in Dorchester, click here. For the July 14 workshop in Mattapan, click here.