WOONSOCKET â€” It was hot on Monday, up to 93 degrees in northern Rhode Island, and the weather was generating more concern for potential health impacts than a typical summer day due to higher than normal readings of ground level ozone.
The high temperatures combined with efforts to fight a mill fire in Central Falls sent at least three firefighters to Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket for treatment of heat-related distress, and several others were treated at the scene. Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket was also reported to be handling some cases of weather-related illnesses in its emergency room.
The R.I. Department of Environmental Manage-ment issued an air quality alert for ground-level ozone approaching or exceeding the unhealthy standard from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday and was repeating the advisory for the same time period on Tuesday.
Ozone is a created by a chemical reaction between air pollutants, gasoline vapors and other emissions, according to the EPA, and can cause breathing problems or aggravate breathing problems and other pre-existing lung diseases. The EPA recommends people refrain from strenuous outdoor activities when ozone levels are high, especially people such as young children or individuals with respiratory medical conditions.
Very warm weather can also be a problem for those elderly who may not have access to air conditioning at home, and also for young children, who, like the elderly, may have difficulty maintaining a normal body temperature when the weather becomes hot.
Dr. Richard Housman, an emergency room physician working at Landmark Medical Center, said there are two types of heat-related illness to watch for. Heat exhaustion is the milder condition of the two and may cause symptoms such as fatigue, headache and sometimes nausea. Heat stroke is a more serious form of heat-related illness that can become life-threatening if not treated.
â€śHeat stroke is a medical emergency and the person needs to come to the ER to be evaluated,â€ť Housman said.
The symptoms of heat stroke can include an altered state of behavior, vomiting, seizures and an increasing temperature.
In either case, Housman recommended prevention as the best course to avoid serious problems.
â€śIf you are starting to feel any of the symptoms, get out of the heat and get to a place where there is air conditioning. Maintaining proper hydration is also key when it is warm, according to Housman.
Plenty of water or a sports drink with electrolytes can be helpful in maintaining proper hydration when it is warm outside, according to Housman.
Small children, like the elderly, can be more susceptible to heat-related illnesses than young and middle age adults, and should also be monitored for any symptoms of difficulty.
â€śMake sure your children stay hydrated and donâ€™t get too much heat exposure,â€ť Housman said. â€śSimply stated, the basic precaution is not to do things that are going to cause you to overheat.â€ť
Seniors who donâ€™t have an air conditioner might ask to spend some time with a relative who does, Housman noted, or take advantage of a location that is cooled.
The stateâ€™s Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA) put out a listing of â€ścooling centersâ€ť on Monday where residents of local communities can go to take advantage of air conditioned environments.
The centers, such as the Cumberland Public Library at The Monastery, are generally open from 8 or 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. or later depending on the location. Some might close at the end of normal business hours.
The listing includes Scouterâ€™s Hall on Main Street in North Smithfield, the Pawtucket Library at 13 Summer St., the Mathieu Senior Center at 420 Main St. in Pawtucket, the Fogarty Manor Community Room at 214 Roosevelt Ave. in Pawtucket, St. Germain Manor community room at 401 Main St. in Pawtucket, the Downtown Visitor Center, at 175 Main St. in Pawtucket, the Woonsocket Senior Center on Social Street and Harris Public Library on Clinton Street in Woonsocket.
Dara Chadwick, a spokeswoman for the R.I. Department of Health, said elderly residents feeling the effects of the heat should take advantage of the centers or some other air conditioned location to avoid heat-related complications.
â€śWe really encourage everyone in this kind of weather to drink plenty of fluids and to avoid alcohol and caffeine drinks,â€ť Chadwick said. Alcoholic beverages and caffeine can cause dehydration and worsen the effects of warm temperatures on susceptible individuals.
Like Housman, Chadwick advised seniors and the parents of young children who suspect heat stroke to visit an emergency room or health care provider to be checked out for serious illness.
It is also a good idea for relatives of elderly people to check in on their loved ones and possibly encourage them to visit a cooling center or some other location where they can gain a respite from the heat.
â€śIt is just good to check on them to make sure they are not getting dehydrated,â€ť she noted.
More information on heat-related health issues can be found at the Department of Healthâ€™s website, www.health.ri.gov and information on ground level ozone at www.epa.gov.region1.