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June 19, 2001
Toronto adopts new Heat-Health Alert System
  
Public Health -- Toronto's Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Sheela Basrur, today
launched a new Heat-Health Alert System designed specifically for Toronto's
weather conditions.

"This system is the result of a creative partnership on a cutting-edge project
designed to assist in protecting public health," said Dr. Basrur. "Using the
most up-to-date science, we are now able to assess climatic conditions in
Toronto in a way that will help us provide appropriate health warnings to
residents of the city during heat waves."

Dr. Basrur noted that the new system has been accepted as a Showcase Project by
the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Meteorological Organization
(WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

"These agencies have a collaborative agreement to develop state-of-the-art
heat-health systems for cities that have historically been affected adversely
by irregular but intense heat waves. Toronto's highly variable summer climate,
with comfortable weather punctuated by occasional extreme heat, makes our city
perfect for such a showcase project."

Dr. Basrur outlined a Hot Weather Response Plan that is activated when a heat
alert or heat emergency is declared. For further details on the Heat Health
Alert System and the Hot Weather Response Plan, see the end of this news
release.

The Heat Health Alert System was developed in partnership with the Toronto
Atmospheric Fund and with financial assistance from the federal government's
Climate Change Action Fund.

Heat-Health Alert System for the City of Toronto

?h Toronto Public Health has had a heat alert system since 1999 based on one
variable, the Humidex. When the Humidex reached 40 degrees Celsius or greater
for two consecutive days, a Heat Alert was called to advise residents of
precautions to take during very hot weather.

?h Last year, Toronto Public Health, in partnership with Toronto Atmospheric
Fund, received federal funding to develop a new heat alert system that could
more accurately link certain climatic factors to an increased probability of
negative heath impacts.

?h Researchers reviewed 17 years of mortality data and 46 years of
meteorological data from Toronto. They found that certain climatic conditions
affecting Toronto are associated with a significantly higher rate of death.

?h When these weather conditions occur, four people a day, on average, die from
heat-related illness. Residents also experience increased health impacts when
the hot weather occurs early in the summer season, before people have adjusted
to warmer weather.

?h Based on this research, Toronto Public Health is adopting a new alert system
that evaluates eight different climatic factors, including temperature, cloud
cover, humidity, wind speed and direction.

?h Environment Canada monitors for these eight conditions, and when there is at
least a 65 per cent chance of increased mortality due to weather conditions, a
Heat Alert will be called by the Medical Officer of Health.

?h A Heat Emergency will be called by the Mayor when there is a greater than 90
per cent chance of increased mortality.

?h During a Heat Alert, a Hot Weather Response Plan is activated. It includes
the following:
?h Community Information Toronto will contact more than 800 community agencies
working with vulnerable populations, such as elderly and isolated seniors and
the homeless, to advise them of extra precautions to take during a heat alert.
?h Red Cross will operate a 24-hour help line to answer heat-related inquires
from the public and respond to requests to check on seniors at risk.
?h Red Cross and Out of the Cold will co-ordinate delivery of bottled water to
libraries and community centres where vulnerable people may gather, and will
provide transportation to a cool place if needed for the homeless.
?h Homeless shelters will allow people to stay inside during the day to keep
cool.
?h During a Heat Emergency, in addition to the above protocols, the City will
also open cooling centers at the North York, East York and York civic centres
and at Metro Hall.


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