The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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July 5, 2012

DHHR cautions residents about heat

BECKLEY — With temperatures predicted to linger in the low 90s for the remainder of the week, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources cautioned the state’s residents about excessive heat, heat-related illness, and practicing safety while working outdoors.

This is an issue particularly relevant as residents begin the slow process of repairing the damage caused by Friday night’s derecho, which left hundreds of thousands without power.

As of Wednesday evening, Appalachian Power estimated that 282,000 West Virginians are still off the grid, leaving no refuge from the heat and humidity to the many affected families.

Dr. Marian Swinker, commissioner for public health and state health officer, says excessive heat can be dangerous if not taken seriously.

“People who work outdoors are more likely to become dehydrated and get heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to compensate to properly cool themselves,” she said. “The body normally cools itself by sweating, but under some conditions, sweating just isn’t enough.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that several factors affect the body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, which in turn prevents the body from being able to release the heat quickly enough.

With temperatures well above normal for this time of year, and predicted to remain there until early next week, many will be exposed to the extreme conditions as recovery efforts continue. The CDC offers these tips to stay healthy in excessive heat:

• Drink from two to four cups of water every hour while working — Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink.

• Avoid alcohol or liquids containing large amounts of sugar.

• Wear and reapply sunscreen as indicated on the package.

• Schedule tasks for earlier or later in the day to avoid midday heat.

• Wear a brimmed hat and loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.

• Spend time in air-conditioned buildings during breaks and after work.

• Encourage co-workers, family and friends to take breaks to cool off and re-hydrate by drinking water.

The CDC said those working outdoors need to be aware of heat exhaustion symptoms and anyone experiencing symptoms of a heat-related illness should seek medical attention.

Symptoms include heavy sweating, weakness, clammy skin, fast and weak pulse, nausea or vomiting, muscle cramps, headache, lightheadedness and fainting.

Those who are 65 years of age or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications that may be affected by extreme heat face the greatest risk of heat-related injuries and illness including heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat rashes.

Since Friday’s storm impact was widespread, presenting a variety of issues, the National Ground Water Association also offered tips to water well owners affected by it and the subsequent power outage.

Cliff Treyens, public awareness director for NGWA, encouraged impacted well owners to inspect their well casing and well cap to ensure the fallen trees and limbs did not damage the equipment.

The well casing — the vertical pipe extending above the ground’s surface — provides access to the well though the cap on top, he explained. If that casing is cracked or bent, it could allow surface contamination, like bacteria, to enter the well.

This also applies to the cap, he added.

He said any debris from the storm which is near the well casing should be carefully removed, in order to avoid the possibility of damage. Further, he said if a visual inspection reveals any issues, contact a qualified well water contractor to assess and repair the problem.

Since the wires to the well’s pump are buried underground and connected to a control box protected from the elements, downed power lines should not affect them; however, if the pump control box, or the wires connected to it, has any signs of damage, stay clear and contact a professional.

Further, he warned individuals to always treat downed lines as live, by staying clear and contacting the appropriate party.

Finally, if someone experiences any change in water quality, appearance or odor, get the water tested at a certified drinking water testing lab, and boil water before using it until it can be determined safe.

NGWA is a nonprofit organization composed of U.S. and international groundwater professionals dedicated to advancing groundwater awareness and knowledge with a vision of being the leading groundwater association that advocates the responsible development, management and use of water.

For more information on well maintenance and water quality, visit www.wellowner.org. To learn more about groundwater and NGWA, visit www.ngwa.org.

More information about heat-related illness may also be found online at www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress/ or by calling the Raleigh County Health Department, at 602 Harper Road, at 304-252-8531.

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