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Beware of hot pavement in summer — it can cause second-degree burns in seconds, study shows

Posted at 12:27 PM, Jul 31, 2019

Two weeks ago a massive heat wave struck two-thirds of the United States. It was hot enough to bake biscuits in Nebraska , cancel a triathlon in New York and knock out the power in Wisconsin .

The pavement also probably burned a few people — and probably much worse than you might think.

A new study from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas shows that hot pavement can cause second-degree burns in a matter of seconds if it's hot enough outside.

The study, recently published in the Journal of Burn Care & Research , is a five-year review of all pavement burn admissions that came into a Las Vegas-area burn center.

A team of surgeons from the UNLV School of Medicine reviewed these pavement-related burn injuries and compared them with the temperature outside to determine which temperatures correlated to an increase in burn admissions.

“Pavement burns account for a significant number of burn-related injuries, particularly in the Southwestern United States,” said Dr. Jorge Vega in press release . Vega is a UNLV School of Medicine surgeon and the study’s lead author. “The pavement can be significantly hotter than the ambient temperature in direct sunlight and can cause second-degree burns within two seconds.”

For the study, researchers identified 173 pavement-related burn cases that occurred from 2013 to 2017. More than 153 of those pavement burns happened when it was 95 degrees or higher outside, and the risk for pavement burns increased exponentially at 105 degrees or higher.

It may seem like common sense to know that pavement gets hot when the temperature outside is scorching, but it's how much hotter the pavement gets that really matters. For example, if it's 111 degrees outside, the pavement will be more like 147 degrees in direct sunlight. For reference, that's only 11 degrees shy of how hot a fried egg gets when it's cooked until it's completely firm.

And while staying off sidewalks and other hot pavement surfaces may seem like an easy task, it's not easily avoided for all people. Children, people who have mobility issues, those who have been tossed to the ground in car accidents, or even just someone who took a spill outside can fall victim to second-degree pavement burns if it's hot enough outside.

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