Hot Pavement Is More Dangerous Than You Realize

Illustration for article titled Hot Pavement Is More Dangerous Than You Realize
Photo: Spencer Platt (Getty Images)

Doctors at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas are warning about a less-recognized danger of summer heat: pavement burns. Their recent study suggests that people in hot places can end up in the hospital with serious burn injuries caused by contact with sizzling pavement.


The researchers, who published their study this April in the Journal of Burn Care and Research, took a look at cases from their own university’s burn center unit. Over a five-year span, they found 173 reported pavement-related burn cases. By cross-referencing the day’s recorded weather with the date of these cases, the authors also found that the vast majority (88 percent) happened when it was at least 95 degrees Fahrenheit outside. And once it was over 105 degrees, the risk of pavement burn got exponentially higher.

While these cases might represent only a small portion of burn injuries that warrant medical attention, the authors say they’re an ever-present worry in areas where the climate is constantly hot and sunny, like the Las Vegas desert.


“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, they wrote.

As anyone who’s walked on asphalt during the summer should know, road pavement and sidewalks absorb the Sun’s heat exceptionally well. That means the surface of the street can be much hotter than the surrounding air. And while it’s debatable whether you really can fry an egg on a summer sidewalk, it doesn’t take long for that same heat to do serious damage to our skin.

“At peak temperatures, pavement can be hot enough to cause second-degree burns in a matter of seconds,” the authors noted.


In some cases the researchers looked at, the burns were worsened by additional injuries sustained during a car accident, such as friction burns that scraped away layers of skin. In other cases, people have suffered stroke, seizures, or drug intoxication that left them unable to get up from the blistering pavement after a fall. People with certain complications like late-stage diabetes have also gotten burned, likely because their nerve endings are impaired and less responsive to things like temperature.

The people most at risk for these pavement burns, according to the authors, include motor vehicle accident victims, the elderly and disabled (who are more likely to fall in general), and the very young, who might not understand the dangers of hot pavement. You don’t have to search long before coming across sad stories of dogs getting pavement burns on their paws during the summer too.


And though the authors don’t discuss it, there’s also the elephant in the room that is climate change. It’s already helped cause more scorching summer days in many areas of the world, especially in cities, and it will undoubtedly lead to more periods of extreme weather, such as heat waves.

By publishing their research, the authors hope to remind everyone to keep an eye out for these sorts of injuries.


“This information will be used for burn outreach prevention and public health awareness programs,” they wrote. “The benefit of this study relates to the entire community since high ambient temperatures put everyone at risk for hot pavement burns.”

Science writer at Gizmodo and pug aficionado elsewhere

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