Heat sparks health alert


Maryland is expected to suffer a third consecutive day of uncomfortable heat and humidity today, with poor air quality threatening the health of some residents.

The temperature reached 92 degrees yesterday at Baltimore-Washington International Airport but was five degrees below the record of 97 degrees, set in 1964. The high temperature at the Inner Harbor was 95 degrees.

Today's forecast calls for more sun and humidity and temperatures in the mid-90s. The heat index - a combination of temperature and humidity that reflects how hot it feels - is expected to reach 100 to 105 degrees. The average high temperature for June is 82 degrees.

The National Weather Service has posted heat advisories from Pennsylvania to Virginia, warning of heat indexes of 100 and above.

"The temperatures are the result of a high-pressure system off the southeast coast," said Michelle Margaf, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va. "We expect the heat to linger until Monday, when temperatures will drop to the upper 80s with partly cloudy skies and a possibility of scattered thundershowers."

During the past two days, temperatures in the 90s prompted the Maryland Department of the Environment to issue "Code Red" air-quality alerts, advising those with heart or respiratory ailments to limit outdoor activities. Code Red is the most urgent air advisory. Under such conditions, strenuous outside activity should be avoided and young children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems should stay inside, according to MDE.

People are also asked to use public transportation to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. Motorists should fuel their cars after dusk and wait until evening to cut the grass with gasoline-powered lawn mowers to avoid releasing gasoline fumes into the sunlight, which contributes to ground-level ozone. The pollutant can cause lung damage, eye irritation, breathing problems, coughing and chest pain, MDE warned. Several area hospitals reported no cases of heat-related problems yesterday. Last month, however, two people died of heat-related illnesses, according to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

A Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman said yesterday that current electric generation capacity is sufficient to meet demand and encouraged customers to use fans and air conditioners.

City officials urged residents to refrain from illegally opening hydrants to cool off, and noted that hydrant sprinklers are available.

Illegally open hydrants reduce water pressure. The force of the water from a hydrant could easily push a person into the road, causing serious injury or death.

To prevent people from illegally opening hydrants, the city Department of Public Works began installing locks last year on about 1,600 fire hydrants. They can be opened only with a special wrench, available from the DPW or Fire Department. Citizens are asked to report illegally opened hydrants immediately by calling 410-396-5352.

Heat safety

The National Weather Service warns that the elderly, infants and pets are at severe risk on hot, humid days and urges the following precautions:

Children should reduce outdoor activities.

Healthy individuals should limit strenuous outdoor work and exercise.

The elderly should drink a lot of water and have friends or family check on them frequently.

People should wear lightweight, light-colored clothes.

Never leave pets or children in a car, even with the windows open.

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