Montreal expects more brutal heat waves, vows to improve response – CBC.ca

Montreal expects more brutal heat waves, vows to improve response - CBC.ca
Montreal better prepared for heat wave this year: health authorities
Climate change will make heat waves in Montreal more frequent and more brutal, public health authorities and city officials say, and they want to better protect the city's most vulnerable residents.

In 2018, 66 deaths were directly related to the heat, according to a new report by Montreal's public health authority. That works out to 6.4 deaths per day, per million inhabitants. 

Better public awareness and improved institutional responsiveness meant there were far fewer deaths than the summer of 2010, when there were 9.3 deaths per day, per million inhabitants, but the 2018 deaths were nonetheless "avoidable," said public health officials.

"It is going to be difficult to have zero deaths from a heat wave, but there is room for improvement," said Dr. Mylène Drouin, the director of public health for the Montreal region, at a media event to release the report and the plan for 2019. 

Montreal was smothered by the heat wave from June 30 to July 5 2018, with maximum temperatures reaching as high as 35.5 C — more than 40 C with the humidex — and minimums remaining above 20 C. 

The report found that low income and social isolation were key factors in the deaths attributable to that heat wave. Of those who died, two out of three were 65 years old or older, and nearly three in four — 72 per cent — had a chronic condition.

A disproportionate number of deaths in 2018 occurred among people suffering from schizophrenia. Those victims made up 25 per cent of the total, even though they represent just 0.6 per cent of Montreal's population.

Part of the issue is that those suffering from schizophrenia can be less sensitive to heat because of their condition and the drugs they take to manage it, said Drouin. Their medications can interfere with the body's ability to eliminate heat.

"We need to refine the types of interventions and the frequency with which we visit them," she said.

The public health authority is working with various partners to build a registry of people in need and where to find them, and it plans to have it finished by the end of June, Drouin said. 

They are using housing data, social and mapping data to show hot spots, in combination with the knowledge of various first responders and health workers with first-hand knowledge of vulnerable areas and individuals.

During 2018's heat wave, police and firefighters made 42,000 door-to-door visits, but Drouin said the intention is to make the on-the-ground efforts more targeted and more effective.

"We can improve the way we're reaching out," she said. "We want to ensure the people doing the interventions are people they trust."

Environment Canada says it's too early to issue a summer forecast, but meteorologist André Cantin says data so far suggests the summer of 2019 will be close to, or slightly above normal. Last summer was below normal during the month of June, but well above normal during July and August.

Coun. Laurence Lavigne-Lalonde, the city's executive member responsible for environmental sustainability, said greening projects — such as putting up temporary walls made of plants and erecting canopies to create more shade — would provide short-term relief to people living in or near urban heat islands.

Heat islands are areas in a city where the summer heat is trapped by expanses of concrete, brick and asphalt, exacerbated by a lack of green space and shade from trees.

"As a city, we have to make sure we're reducing greenhouse gases and creating an environment that is healthier, that we're not increasing these climate hazards," Lavigne-Lalonde said. "On the other hand, we have to be able to respond when these hazards emerge."

The total deaths from the 2018 heat wave differ from report to report, but this is because not all used the same methodology.

The Montreal public health authority's methodology considered all deaths over the heat wave period and used statistical criteria to identify deaths very likely related to heat, while the Quebec coroner's numbers are based upon evidence from autopsies.

"Evidently, both methodologies have their limits," Drouin said. "Not every death is going to be referred to the coroner."

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Sixty-six people died during citys 2018 heat wave, report says, 13 more than initially believed. Eighty per cent of the victims died at home.

Montreal public health authorities say they’re better prepared to handle a potentially deadly heat wave this summer than the one last year that was blamed for the deaths of 66 people, 13 more than the initial tally.

“I think we’ve improved our interventions and our capacity to work together,” Dr. Mylène Drouin, director of the public health department, told a news conference Wednesday following the release of an exhaustive report on last summers heat wave.

Drouin acknowledged that it will always “be difficult to have zero deaths associated with heat waves,” but authorities have learned a great deal from last summer’s experience. The biggest lesson learned is the need to set up a detailed registry that will show neighbourhoods and homes that are at the highest risk.

Contrary to some news media accounts last summer that focused on heat-related deaths in hospitals and long-term care centres, the report found that 80 per cent of the victims died at home.

Researchers discovered that two-thirds of the deaths occurred in so-called heat islands — neighbourhoods with few trees to provide shade. For example, the heat-related mortality rate was 1.2 per 100,000 residents in leafy Notre-Dame-de-Grâce compared with 5.8 in the largely concrete-and-brick environment of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.

In the event of a heat wave this summer, the Montreal Fire Department and police officers would visit properties that the registry indicates are at high risk of being affected by heat waves, including rooming houses and private seniors’ residences. The public health department also plans to work with community groups to reach out to people who live with mental illness.

”Low income and social isolation are also important risk factors during heat waves,” Drouin said, adding that authorities can expect more heat waves as a result of climate change.

Last summer’s heat wave lasted from June 30 to July 5, and at one point there were so many deaths that the citys morgue was filled to capacity. Still, the mortality rate overall was lower than a heat wave in 2010.

Of those who died during the 2018 heat wave, 72 per cent suffered from chronic diseases and 66 per cent were at least 65 years old. What’s more, a disproportionately high number of those who died — 25 per cent — lived with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.

The registry is expected to be completed by next month. It will combine data from the city’s housing department with a heat map of Montreal Island as well as the input of the city’s first responders.

Last summer, firefighters and police conducted 42,000 door-to-door visits. Louise Desrosiers, prevention section chief of the fire department, said firefighters can recommend during visits that the owners of rooming houses install air conditioning for their tenants.

The city of Montreal would also be ready to install temporary vegetation on some building walls and in other areas that are prone to high temperatures, said city councillor Laurence Lavigne-Lalonde, a member of the executive committee who is in charge of the environment portfolio.

“I think it’s a global responsibility to take real and strong action regarding a city that is greener and better adapted to fight against heat waves,” Lavigne-Lalonde added, noting that the city will spend $16 million this year to plant trees that will also absorb the heat.

The report warned that summer temperatures will rise by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius in Montreal and Laval in the coming decades. During last summer’s heat wave, the maximum temperature soared to 35.5 degrees.