Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Health Impacts of Citywide and Localized Power Outages in New York City

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Health Impacts of Citywide and Localized Power Outages in New York City

Article excerpt

Introduction

Climate change is expected to increase average summer temperatures, as well as the frequency of heat-waves and severe storms (Diffenbaugh et al. 2013; IPCC 2007). With these changes, an increase in power outages may occur due to increased numbers of high-electricity-demand days in the summer and storm-related damage (Horton et al. 2010). Power outages pose a public health and safety concern as they can affect public transit systems; elevators and water pumping equipment; food refrigeration; electrically powered medical devices; and regulation of indoor temperatures, which could increase heat and cold stress (CDC 2013; Lee et al. 2016) and exacerbate certain chronic conditions (Lin et al. 2016; Ostro et al. 2010). Previous studies reported increases of carbon monoxide poisonings during power outages associated with hurricanes and major winter storms because of incorrect use of devices for generating electricity, heating, or cooking (Chen et al. 2013; Damon et al. 2013; Muscatiello et al. 2010).

Large-scale power outages also may exacerbate chronic health conditions, leading to hospitalization or death. Beginning on 14 August 2003, equipment failure originating in Ohio resulted in power outages across the northeastern United States and southern Canada (U.S.--Canada Power System Outage Task Force 2004). The outage affected New York City's (NYC) mass-transit system, stranding residents on their way home from work and leaving many people trapped in high-rise buildings without functioning elevators or equipment to raise potable water (Beatty et al. 2006; DeBlasio et al. 2004). Subsequent studies reported evidence of increased mortality (Anderson and Bell 2012), hospitalizations for respiratory conditions (Lin et al. 2011), and emergency medical service calls regarding medical device failure (Rand et al. 2005).

In NYC, electricity is generated by a power source and transmitted to transformers, which are connected to local distribution systems composed of underground networks and overhead load areas (Office of the Attorney General 2000) (hereafter referred to as network). The networks deliver electricity to individual electric meters, commonly referred to as customers, supplying a range of buildings, including single-family houses and apartment buildings with multiple residential units. Power outages can be widespread (e.g., the citywide August 2003 outage) or can affect only one or a few networks. For example, on 6 July 1999, the entire Washington Heights network, comprising 68,888 customers (electric meters) serving more than 200,000 residents, lost power for 18 h (Office of the Attorney General 2000). Outages can also affect a subset of customers within an individual network, and the numbers and specific network customers affected can vary over the course of a single localized outage. For example, on 17 July 2006, an outage in the Long Island City network caused up to 65,000 customers (174,000 residents) to lose power for 10 d (Department of Public Service 2007; New York State Assembly Queens Task Force 2007). These localized outages both coincided with extreme heat events, when power usage typically is at its peak (New York City Emergency Management 2016).

Several studies have been published on the widespread August 2003 outage (Anderson and Bell 2012; Lin et al. 2011; Rand et al. 2005), but information on the health impacts of localized power outages, which would help inform preparedness and resiliency efforts, is limited. To address this gap, we performed two complementary analyses of the potential health impacts of localized power outages in NYC. The first assessed health outcomes associated with the 1999 Washington Heights (1999 WH) and 2006 Long Island City (2006 LIC) outages, and the citywide outage in August 2003. In addition, we extended the analysis of health outcomes associated with the citywide 2003 outage to include more specific causes of mortality and hospitalization. …

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