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Data Analysis: Nature & Environmental Injuries in California

Northern California is home to some of the most iconic and treasured National Parks in the United States. Even people who are not incredibly familiar with the country’s national park system likely recognize names like Yosemite, Redwood, and Pinnacles. With so many beautiful and preserved natural habitats within striking distance, it’s no wonder that residents of Fresno and the neighboring communities enjoy hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities.

Despite the natural splendor of the outdoors, however, it’s possible for people to suffer serious or even life-threatening injuries. Defective camping equipment, wild animal attacks, and dangerous natural terrain can inflict serious or even lethal injuries on an unprepared hiker or camper. In this article, we discuss the impact of nature-inflicted and environmental injuries in California.

What Are Environmental Injuries?

According to National Health Care Provider Solutions (NHCPS), environmental injuries occur when a victim is exposed to something dangerous in their immediate area. Some of the potential causes of environmental injuries can be:

  • Unsafe temperature
  • Exposure to toxins or poisons
  • Drowning
  • Stings & bites
  • Shock & Lightning Injuries
  • Altitude illness & mountain sickness

Depending on the type of injury and the victim’s proximity to medical care facilities, an environmental injury can cause minor, moderate, or life-threatening harm.

Injuries & Associated Costs of Fatal Environmental Injuries in California

Compared to other forms of death in California during the year 2020, such as falls, firearm homicides, and drug poisonings, nature-related and environmental fatalities made up a low percentage of statewide deaths. Only 0.77% of fatalities in the state occurred due to an environmental injury, of which all 150 incidents were unintentional. However, the cost in human life is steep indeed.

Although it is incredibly difficult to put a number on the worth of a human life, we calculated the value of statistical life (VSL) for each mechanism and injury intent. VSL measures the tradeoff rate between money and fatality risk, thus indicating the costs to improve public safety and a population’s willingness to take up such costs. The VSL value for environmental deaths in 2020 is $1.41 billion dollars, revealing that it would take an estimated $940,000,000 to prevent a single random environmental death in California.

Mechanism Intent # Deaths Medical Costs Value of Statistical Life Combined Costs
Cut / Pierce Unintentional $69,536 $73.80M $73.87M
Homicide 322 $2.15M $3.51B $3.52B
Suicide 135 $773,009 $1.39B $1.39B
Undetermined $25,261 $47.90M $47.93M
Drowning (Includes Water Transport) Unintentional 437 $4.41M $4.80B $4.81B
Homicide $15,082 $40.80M $40.82M
Suicide 71 $177,520 $754.00M $754.18M
Undetermined 20 $43,312 $202.30M $202.34M
Fall Unintentional 2,896 $93.69M $13.28B $13.37B
Homicide $8,978 $22.80M $22.81M
Suicide 188 $1.07M $2.00B $2.00B
Undetermined $206,117 $73.60M $73.81M
Flame or Fire Unintentional 200 $2.54M $1.67B $1.67B
Homicide $26,530 $74.90M $74.93M
Suicide 18 $475,744 $184.50M $184.98M
Undetermined $49,252 $36.50M $36.55M
Hot Object / Substance Unintentional 10 $336,467 $57.20M $57.54M
Firearm Unintentional 39 $649,114 $467.20M $467.85M
Homicide 1,732 $14.16M $20.15B $20.17B
Legal Intervention 99 $778,315 $1.12B $1.12B
Suicide 1,552 $6.17M $14.26B $14.27B
Undetermined 27 $334,351 $306.40M $306.73M
Machinery Unintentional 34 $250,426 $334.80M $335.05M
Natural / Environmental Unintentional 150 $2.75M $1.41B $1.41B
Drug Poisoning Unintentional 8,401 $52.99M $93.31B $93.36B
Homicide 10 $65,500 $115.90M $115.97M
Suicide 412 $3.96M $4.24B $4.24B
Undetermined 85 $773,396 $954.10M $954.87M
Non-Drug Poisoning Unintentional 486 $3.82M $5.28B $5.29B
Homicide $88.50 $22.80M $22.89M
Suicide 125 $681,577 $1.23B $1.23B
Undetermined $14,918 $84.80M $84.81M
Struck By / Against Unintentional 65 $974,488 $636.10M $637.07M
Homicide 50 $1.17M $539.40M $540.57M
Undetermined $111,020 $22.80M $22.91M
Suffocation Unintentional 390 $9.50M $3.32B $3.33B
Homicide 49 $248,343 $547.20M $547.45M
Suicide 1,456 $8.30M $16.07B $16.08B
Undetermined 12 $120,063 $160.05M $160.62M
Transport-Related Homicide 13 $104,060 $154.80M $154.90M
Suicide 30 $44,049 $316.50M $316.54M

Injuries & Associated Costs of Nonfatal Environmental Injuries in California

Even a non-fatal injury can inflict thousands of dollars in medical expenses, lost work time, and a decreased quality of life. Using data gathered from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WISQARS™ Reporting System, we analyzed the impact of nonfatal environmental injuries on Californians in 2020. You can review our results in the table below; please note that, in the dataset, “M” stands for “million” and “B” stands for “billion.”

Notable findings:

  • “Unintentional falls” caused the most harm by far, with 1.43M reported hospitalizations, $10.81B in work loss costs, and $287.70B in quality-of-life costs.
  • Animal bites and stings caused 35,791 reported hospitalizations over the one-year period.
  • All poisoning incidents resulted in nearly 16x as many hospitalizations as overexertion, but the cost in quality of life was only 1.24x higher for poisoning-related incidents.
Mechanism Intent Hospitalizations Medical Costs Work Loss Costs Quality of Life Costs
Bite: Dog Unintentional 12,847 $683.01M $118.85M $503.74M
Bite: Other (or Stings) Unintentional 22,944 $1.22B $212.26M $1.16B
Cut / Pierce Unintentional 43,212 $2.74B $399.76M $1.97B
Assault – Other 32,302 $2.83B $298.83M $1.98B
Self-Harm 85,822 $3.33B $793.96M $2.11B
Submersion / Drowning Unintentional 2,968 $96.73M $27.46M $1.32B
Fall Unintentional 1.43M $75.57B $10.81B $287.70B
Assault – Other 1,580 $83.55M $11.95M $319.84M
Self-Harm 4,462 $235.89M $33.74M $583.77M
Fire / Burn Unintentional 36,691 $2.51B $339.43M $2.94B
Self-Harm 1,838 $130.67M $17.01M $164.23M
Foreign Body Unintentional 41,824 $2.26B $386.92M $987.07M
Firearm Unintentional 12,449 $1.01B $115.17M $1.16B
Suffocation / Inhalation Unintentional 11,106 $580.32M $102.74M $410.21M
Self-Harm 4,623 $241.56M $42.77M $1.73B
Machinery Unintentional 12,835 $653.86M $118.74M $1.47B
Overexertion Unintentional 36,413 $2.11B $336.87M $4.30B
Poisoning Unintentional 393,005 $12.27B $3.64B $3.93B
Self-Harm 177,874 $4.52B $1.65B $1.39B
Struck By / Against Unintentional 94,206 $5.06B $871.52M $13.63B
Assault – Other 83,069 $371.66M $768.49M $16.15B
Assault – Sexual 6,097 $142.30M $56.41M $389.41M
Legal Intervention 2,538 $618.17M $23.48M $367.61M
Self-Harm 11,024 $17.47B $101.98M $1.14B

Are Environmental Injuries a Leading Cause of Emergency Room Visits in the U.S.?

All things considered, you face a substantially higher risk of needing emergency care after a fall, striking something, being accidentally poisoned, or being bitten by an animal than after experiencing an environmental injury. In fact, unintentional falls caused the most emergency room visits of all injury types across all age ranges in the U.S. throughout 2020. However, a substantial number of environmental injuries necessitating an emergency room visit did occur throughout the year.

“Unintentional natural / environment” injuries were the 18th-leading cause of emergency room visits for injury victims aged 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, and 55-64, per WISQARS. They were the 19th-leading cause of emergency room visits for patients aged 10-14, 15-24, and 65+.

What is the Cost in Years of Potential Life Lost from Environmental Injuries?

Years of potential life lost (or YPPL), is an estimate of the average years someone would have lived had they not passed away prematurely. Using WISQARS data from 2016-2020 (the latest year for which statistics are available), we graphed YPPL caused by environmental injuries in California over the five-year period. To prevent the data from being skewed by the age spectrum, we used “YPPL before the age of 65.” From 2019 to 2020, YPPL caused by environmental injuries increased by nearly 57% in the state.

Years of Potential Life Lost, U.S., 2020

Injuries and Deaths Caused by Camping Equipment, 2011-2021

Although not a major national cause of injury or death, defective camping products and supplies do play a role in environmental incidents. From 2011-2021, there were 72 deaths connected to defective camping equipment across the U.S. Many of these incidents occurred due to defective camping stoves that either poisoned their users, exploded, or otherwise started a fire. Other deaths occurred due to falling equipment, collapsing tents, and entanglement.

Outcome of Defective Camping Equipment, U.S., 2011-2021

What Should You Do After an Environmental Injury?

An environmental injury of any severity can be a stressful experience. If you or a loved one are injured, try to stay calm and call 911 for emergency assistance. If you are trained and licensed in first aid and have the equipment to help the injury victim(s) without putting yourself in danger, do so. After the incident, a personal injury attorney in Fresno can review your case and help determine whether the situation was caused or worsened by negligence.