© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Summer Days In Missouri And Kansas Turning Dangerously Hot For Outdoor Workers

Construction on Main Street in Kansas City near 43rd Street, June 7, 2021.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Construction on Main Street in Kansas City near 43rd Street, June 7, 2021. By the middle of the century, more than two weeks every summer will be too hot to safely work outside, according to a new study.

In the next few decades, climate change will cause more than two weeks every summer to become too hot to safely work outside. A new study argues that quick action is needed prevent that number of dangerously hot days from doubling.

Summer weather is growing hotter and wetter in the Kansas City region, putting people who work outdoors at increasing risk for illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

In the coming decades, the area will see more than two weeks when it is too hot for people to work outside safely, according to a new study released Tuesday by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The study estimates that, by the end of the century, at least one month of the summer could be too hot for outdoor work if drastic actions aren't taken to stop climate change.

The authors of the study, which is currently being reviewed for publication, encourage employers and government leaders to take steps to protect people who work in industries including agriculture, construction and delivery.

“Without additional protections, the risks to workers will only grow in the decades ahead as climate change worsens, leaving the roughly 32 million outdoor workers in our country to face a brutal choice: their health or their jobs,” says study author and University of South California climate researcher Dr. Rachel Licker in a press release.

The number of days exceeding 100 degree Fahrenheit are quickly growing throughout the country.
Union Of Concerned Scientists
The number of days exceeding 100 degree Fahrenheit are quickly growing throughout the country.

Titled “Too Hot For Work,” the study predicts that 35 days in Missouri and 31 days in Kansas each year will reach perceived temperature levels exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit — due to combinations of heat and humidity — by the year 2100.

The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention advises that employers reduce schedules for people doing moderate work outdoors when the heat index reaches between 100-108 degrees. The CDC also recommends that work be stopped on days exceeding 108 degrees.

Under those qualifications, Kansas and Missouri currently have two days per year during which outdoor work is unsafe.

And more dangerously hot are approaching fast: By the period between 2036-2065, study authors estimate that 19 days per year in Missouri and 16 days in Kansas could become too hot for work.

There is still opportunity for invention, though. If warming emissions can be reduced, too-hot-for-work days could be contained to just 13 in Missouri and 11 in Kansas by mid-century. And if such steps are taken rapidly, those days would not increase further.

“To limit future extreme heat, the United States must urgently contribute to global efforts to effectively constrain heat — trapping emissions by investing in just and equitable solutions that get us to net-zero emissions no later than 2050,” Licker says.

The study authors note that people of color, especially immigrants and migrant workers in agriculture, face a disproportionately high level of risk from the extreme weather, and call on federal lawmakers to establish protective measures for outdoor workers.

The study uses data from a 2019 peer-reviewed UCS study “Killer Heat in the United States." It includes combined-partial days to reach the total number of too-hot days.

As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.