Study: In Hot Climates, Pavements Can Be Hot Enough to Cause Second-Degree Burns within Seconds

In a study published recently in the Journal of Burn Care Research, a team of researchers reviewed all pavement burn injury admissions into a Las Vegas area burn center, and compared the outdoor temperatures at the time of each patient admission to, in essence, determine how hot is too hot.

Pavement burns account for significant burn-related injuries in the Southwestern United States and other hot climates with nearly continuous sunlight and daily maximum temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). Image credit: Johannes Plenio.

Pavement burns account for significant burn-related injuries in the Southwestern United States and other hot climates with nearly continuous sunlight and daily maximum temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). Image credit: Johannes Plenio.

“Pavement burns account for a significant number of burn-related injuries, particularly in the Southwestern United States,” said lead author Dr. Jorge Vega, a surgeon in the School of Medicine at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

“The pavement can be significantly hotter than the ambient temperature in direct sunlight and can cause second-degree burns within two seconds.”

Dr. Vega and colleagues identified 173 pavement-related burn cases between 2013 to 2017 at the University Medical Center Lions Burn Care Center in Las Vegas.

Of those, 149 cases were isolated pavement burns and 24 involved other injuries, including those from motor vehicle accidents.

More than 88% (153) of related incidents occurred when temps were 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) or higher, with the risk increasing exponentially as temperatures exceeded 105 degrees Fahrenheit (about 41 degrees Celsius).

That’s because pavement in direct sunlight absorbs radiant energy, making it significantly hotter and potentially dangerous.

Pavement on a 111-degree Fahrenheit (44 degrees Celsius) day, for example, can get as hot as 147 degrees Fahrenheit (64 degrees Celsius) in direct sunlight.

And while it seems like a no-brainer to stay off a hot sidewalk, for some it’s unavoidable — including victims of motor vehicle accidents, people with mobility issues or medical episodes who have fallen to the ground, or small children who may not know better.

The takeaway — summer in the desert is no joke, and more education is needed to warn people of the risks of hot pavement, particularly as temperatures creep above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius).

“This information is useful for burn centers in hotter climates, to plan and prepare for the coordination of care and treatment,” Dr. Vega said.

“It can also be used for burn injury prevention and public health awareness, including increased awareness and additional training to emergency medical service and police personnel when attending to pavement burn victims in the field.”

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Jorge Vega Jr. et al. 2019. A 5-Year Review of Pavement Burns From a Desert Burn Center. Journal of Burn Care Research 40 (4): 422-426; doi: 10.1093/jbcr/irz049

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