More people died in last summer's Montreal heat wave than initially reported

MONTREAL — Health authorities in Montreal are adding 13 more people to the list of victims of last summer's heat wave, and are urging the city to do more to diminish heat across the densely populated urban neighbourhoods that are home to the most vulnerable.

At least 66 people died as a result of extreme heat on the island of Montreal between June 30 and July 8, 2018, said Mylene Drouin, head of the city's public health authority, on Wednesday. Authorities last year thought the number was 53.

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Drouin and medical researchers discovered 72 per cent of those who died suffered from a chronic illness and 66 per cent were over the age of 65.

The statistic that stands out, however, is how 25 per cent of heat wave victims had schizophrenia, a severe form of psychosis.

Drouin said people with schizophrenia need to be better looked after by the health care system but "collaboration is not always easy."

The health authority recommended Montreal do more to identify vulnerable people. Drouin said her office is currently building a registry of those deemed most in need of attention during heat waves.

The health authority also suggested some neighbourhoods immediately plant more trees and other greenery to combat the so-called heat island effect.

Urban heat islands are defined as the parts of a city made hotter by human activity, as compared to nearby rural areas. These neighbourhoods often have less vegetation as well as more buildings and other material that absorb heat.

The study indicated people living in heat islands were twice as likely to die from extreme heat than others in cooler parts of the city. Neighbourhoods in heat islands are also home to a higher percentage of people living in poverty.

Councillor Laurence Lavigne-Lalonde told reporters the city is planning to increase the number of temporary urban green spaces to try and cool down the temperature in heat islands.

Street corners could have temporary urban gardens equipped with shelters from the sun, she said. These spaces would encourage citizens to interact more outside.

"It has an impact on reducing heat and it has a social impact," Lavigne-Lalonde said, alongside Drouin. "People go outside more and talk to their neighbours. In emergency situations it's important to know who your neighbours are."

Last summer's heat wave officially occurred between June 30 and July 5, when daytime temperatures were recorded between 31.9 C and 35.5 C. Drouin's office extended the period of analysis by three days because she said people suffered health effects related to the heat until then.

Researchers analyzed all 328 deaths reported to the coroner that occurred on the island of Montreal between June 30 and July 8, 2018.

They collected information from the medical records of the deceased as well as the circumstances of their death, such as the location, room temperature and the presence of air conditioning, to come up with results.

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