Columbia - At about noon Thursday the temperatures were pushing 90 degrees, and employees of Columbia Ready Mix were ready to be sent home.
The high for the day reached 96 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
“I have about 30 workers that have been working since 5:30 or 6 a.m., and they are ready to be sent home,” said General Manager Troy Dawkins.
Dawkins said that in the past week, four of his employees have experienced heat-related illnesses.
“One of our drivers had to call an ambulance,” Dawkins said. “Drivers usually don’t have a problem, but in this weather they get out and help (concrete workers) a lot more.”
Because the cabs of some trucks don’t have air conditioning, drivers have to contend with extreme heat while driving.
“If it is 108 heat index outside, the cab can get up to 115 to 120 degrees,” Dawkins said.
The heat also affects the concrete itself. The heat speeds up the process of hydration, or cement solidification.
“Sometimes you have to put ice or cool water in the mix, but it hasn’t happened yet this year,” he said.
The company provides water, Gatorade, ice machines and salt tablets to the workers. They also encourage employees to bring coolers.
“The people out in the field think that they can keep going, but the heat gets to them,” he said.
Not all heat-related illnesses get reported. Deidre Woods, a spokeswoman for the Columbia/Boone County Health Department, said there have been only four confirmed cases of heat-related illnesses in Columbia. But she said heat-related illnesses are often classified differently, so it is difficult to tell how many Boone County residents have had to seek medical treatment due to the heat wave.
Meanwhile, Columbia Water and Light has been concerned about exceeding the city’s available energy.
Connie Kacprowicz, spokesperson for Columbia Water and Light, said the utility is hoping that with the help of energy conserving practices for both industrial and residential customers, energy consumption will not exceed peak levels.
She urged utility customers to conserve energy as much as possible.
Columbia had not exceeded peak energy levels as of Thursday afternoon, she said. “As long as we don’t go past our suggested peak, we will not have to buy energy,” Kacprowicz said.