New Heat Health Research Projects announced by Wellcome Trust

Four research projects exploring the health impacts of extreme heat were among the recipients of the 2019 Wellcome Trust Climate Change and Health Awards. Read more and look forward to new insights and outcomes from these projects:

Managing heat stress among Bangladesh ready-made clothing industry workers 

Lead: Jean Palutikof, Griffith University, Australia

In 2016-17, the Bangladesh Ready-Made Garment (RMG) industry generated USD28.14 billion, representing 80.7% export earnings and 12.36% GDP. Bangladesh has around 5000 RMG factories, employing 4 million people, mainly women. Heat stress is a major contributor to difficult working conditions, and is highly likely to worsen in future due to global warming. It is estimated that, by late 21st century, maximum wet-bulb globe temperatures will exceed 31oC, a level considered dangerous, throughout Bangladesh for RCP4.5 and RCP8.5. This raises serious questions for workers’ health, welfare and productivity in this economically-vital industry.

This project explores how low- to moderate-cost interventions can alleviate impacts of high temperatures and humidity in RMG factories, and how they can contribute to improving conditions under future climate change. The interventions are green roofs, white roofs, and actively-managed fan-assisted cross-ventilation, compared to no intervention and air-conditioning. 

Climate-controlled chambers, computer-based modelling, and ambient and internal monitoring will be used together with worker interviews to explore perceptions of thermal strain and discomfort. 

By understanding relationships between external and internal climates, and then projecting into the future the internal climate of factories, we can estimate when investing in these interventions will become necessary, and their effectiveness.

Air pollution, heat, and health in Brazil under climate change

Lead: Michelle Bell, Yale University, USA

Rapid urbanization of Brazil has resulted in environmental degradation with poor air quality and urban heat island effects. Climate change is anticipated to further increase overall temperatures with heat waves that occur more often, burn hotter, and last longer. 

This project will estimate air pollution (fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone), heat waves, and days of high or low temperatures under present day conditions and in the future under climate change for two major Brazilian cities. The project will also develop estimates of how weather and air pollution impact mortality in Brazil. 

Combining these works, the project will calculate the health impacts of climate change for air pollution and weather, considering sensitive subpopulations. Further, it will consider sector analysis and impacts in the future to analyze “co-benefits” of short-term improvements in air quality under climate change policies. The interdisciplinary research team includes expertise in epidemiology, environmental engineering, biostatistics, exposure assessment, and atmospheric science. 

Health and economic impacts of urban heat islands and greenspace

Lead: Clare Heaviside, University of Oxford, UK

Overheating in cities due to the Urban Heat Island (UHI) is a global public health problem, leading to decreased productivity, morbidity and mortality, and affecting disadvantaged communities disproportionately. Loss of green infrastructure though land use change exacerbates health risks, whilst mitigation and adaptation measures can lead to expansion or improvement of urban green infrastructure, with potential co-benefits. These benefits and costs are not well quantified for either the environment or human health. 

To properly quantify the impact of changes to urban green infrastructure, this project proposes an interdisciplinary approach, simulating local environmental data and linking with existing demographic databases to analyse health impacts, including development of an environment and health economics tool. 

The research will focus on international cities (including London, Beijing, Nairobi), to investigate health impacts on urban populations, the potential impacts of climate change and the co- benefits of mitigation and adaptation measures in reducing overheating risk, and increasing access to urban greenspace.

Green spaces, air pollution, and climate-related heat mortality in Latin American cities 

Lead: Daniel Rodriguez, University of California Berkeley, USA

The impacts of extreme heat events will increase with climate change and a rising urban population. Using an unprecedented urban resident mortality database for nine Latin American countries, this project will convene an interdisciplinary research team to examine: 

a) the impacts of climate change on urban population mortality from increases in the magnitude, duration, and frequency of extreme heat events; and,
b) the modifying effect of greenspace and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) on the association between heat events and mortality. 

The project will focus on two time periods: baseline (2001-2010) and midcentury (2051-2055). For the baseline it will use past climate, mortality, greenspace, and PM2.5 data to estimate associations and interactions of interest by age and education. For the midcentury, it will use the Weather Research and Forecasting Model to downscale aggressive and conservative IPCC global climate scenarios to a 36-km resolution and predict the duration, magnitude, and frequency of heat waves. 

Future population, greenspace, and PM2.5 scenarios, coupled with the predicted heat events and estimated coefficients, are used to project future excess mortality by age and education. 

This study will provide evidence of health impacts of a climate adaptation and mitigation strategy in the face of future heat waves and outline opportunities for pro-active involvement.