Congressional bill introduced in honor of man who died of heat stroke picking grapes in 105-degree weather

Over a decade after a California farmworker's tragic heat stroke death, a new bill has been introduced in order to prevent similar fatalities.

Asuncion Valdivia, 53, suffered a fatal stroke in 2004 after picking grapes for 10 straight hours in 105-degree temperatures. Instead of calling an ambulance, Valdivia's employer allegedly told his son to drive him home. During the car ride, Valdivia began foaming at the mouth before succumbing to his condition. 

This month, Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., introduced the Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act, a Congressional bill that aims to protect workers — like the bill's namesake — in extremely hot conditions. 

The bill would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to establish federal regulations granting workers in hot conditions paid breaks in cool spaces and access to water, as well as create limitations on how long they can be exposed to heat.

Grijalva described Valdivia's death, which inspired the bill, as disturbing and "deeply personal," according to the Arizona Republic.

"He fell over, unconscious. Instead of calling an ambulance, his employer told his son to drive Mr. Valdivia home," Grijalva said. "On his way home, the father starting foaming at the mouth and died of heat stroke. A son had to witness his father die a preventable death at the age of 53. This death was completely avoidable, yet his story is not unique." 

He also added the issue hit close to home, as triple-digit heat is a common occurrence in his state. 

"Soaring temperatures already plague Arizona's workforce, and conditions will only worsen as climate change contributes to more extreme heat conditions," he said.

The legislation has been backed by other representatives, including Judy Chu, D-Calif., who witnessed a similarly preventable tragedy just last year. 

U.S. Postal Service carrier Peggy Frank was found unresponsive in her mail truck in Woodland Hills on July 6, 2018, amid blistering temperatures that climbed up to 117 degrees, PEOPLE reports.

Emergency responders attempted to revive Frank but she was pronounced dead at the scene at 3:35 p.m. Her official cause of death was ruled hyperthermia, which occurs when the body cannot properly regulate the amount of heat coming from the environment, Lt. Nani Cholakians of the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner told the Los Angeles Daily News.

Chu's representatives told the outlet that the Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act would have covered the region where Frank worked. 

"According to a 2015 study by OSHA, exposure to heat led to 37 work-related deaths and 2,830 nonfatal occupation injuries and illnesses," Chu said in a statement."And it's only expected to get worse. A new report released last week found that rising temperatures from global warming could cost the global economy as much as $69 trillion by 2100, thanks in part to the impact on workers’ health."

Hyperthermia and other heat-related illnesses can often prove fatal, especially for older adults, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Heat stroke, which killed Asuncion Valdivia, is a particularly deadly form of hyperthermia that occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and is unable to control its temperature.

Heat stroke occurs when someone’s body temperature increases significantly (generally above 104 degrees Fahrenheit) and exhibits symptoms such as mood swings (like confusion or combativeness), strong rapid pulse, lack of sweating, dry flushed skin, faintness, staggering or coma, according to NIH.  

If you suspect that someone is suffering from a heat-related illness, like hyperthermia or heat exhaustion, the organization recommends you get the person into a shady, air-conditioned place and urge them to lie down before offering them water or applying cold compresses. If you suspect heat stroke, call 911 immediately.

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