Visitors rest at the Mount Aery Baptist Church Cooling Center in Bridgeport. with cots, charging sta Joe Amon /

Heat kills more people than any other weather episode. There are estimated 1,300 deaths per year in the United States due to heat. Each year there are 6,512 emergency room visits and an average of 9,235 people hospitalized in the U.S. from extreme heat.

Although everyone is vulnerable to the effects of heat, the elderly, the very young and asthmatics are at the greatest risk.

Elderly people are at high risk from heat because their sweat glands don’t function as well, and their bodies respond more slowly to rising temperatures. Older adults are more likely to have underlying medical conditions that also add to their vulnerability.

Babies and young children are at high risk because they sweat less than older children and adults and this reduces their ability to cool down.  This puts them at greater risk of overheating. Babies and young children rely on others to keep them cool and hydrated in the summer heat.

Asthmatics also have trouble in warm weather. The heat often comes with high humidity, and this causes the constriction of airways, making breathing difficult. Heat also traps ground level ozone which negatively affects lung function. The stagnant air of the summer heat traps pollen, dust and pollutants which add to the asthmatic’s breathing issues in the heat of summer.

Although those three populations are at the greatest risk, people who work outdoors and athletes who exercise in the heat are also at high risk of heat issues.

The body is not designed for excessive heat.

If the body temperature goes much above 98.6 in the heat. The body will try to get rid of the heat by having blood vessels dilate, and at the same time, heart rates will beat faster. There is a limit to how much the body can adjust. Much depends on a person’s underlying health as well as the outside humidity levels.  When humidity is high, it is hard for the body’s sweat to evaporate and cool down.  This can lead to heat stroke.

Heat stroke is serious. It happens when the body can no longer control its temperature and the body’s temperature rises rapidly. The temperature can rise to 104 degrees or higher in 10 to 15 minutes.  Heat stroke can trigger seizures, convulsions, coma, and without treatment, even death.

Air conditioning becomes critical during extreme heat episodes.  Fans are not good for asthmatics as they blow allergens around and make asthmatic’s breathing issues even worse. Air conditioning, on the other hand, not only cools the air it also filters the air while cooling it.

Not everyone can afford air-conditioners and that is the problem at hand. What can be done about this?

New York City has a program called the Home Energy assistance Program (HEAP) which is a federally funded program which provides financial assistance for the cost of air-conditioners or fans.

The Boston area also has a program, funded by the Barr Foundation, that gives out air-conditioners to those who are low income people who apply.

It has been proven that programs like these do work – but the issue is – how to get funds into Connecticut so that this state can supply air-conditioning to the underserved.

The state now supplies funds to the underserved for heat in the winter months – and now it is time to supply cooling to low-income people in the excessive heat of the summer months. It is critical to get air-conditioning to the underserved if we are to save lives in the extreme heat of climate change.

Nancy Alderman is  President of Environment and Human Health, Inc.