Respiratory illness linked to indoor cooking fires
Cheap stove, fuel could improve health for millions

By Robert Sanders, Public Affairs


29 August 2001 | Respiratory infections caused by smoke from indoor cooking fires common in the Third World could be cut dramatically through the use of inexpensive stoves and modestly cleaner fuels, say researchers at Berkeley and Princeton.

Their three-year study — the first to systematically monitor ill health and indoor pollution levels over a large range of exposure values — involved nearly 80 households and 400 to 500 people in central Kenya. It showed that particulate-matter pollution levels inside homes using traditional open fires can be tens of times greater than those in western industrialized countries.

“One-third of the world’s population — almost two billion people — use wood, charcoal, dung or crop residue as cooking fuel, which is an important cause of respiratory illness, one of the most common diseases worldwide,” said study coauthor Daniel Kammen, professor of energy and resources and director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy lab.

Midway through the study, Kammen and his colleague, Majid Ezzati, introduced the households to simple, cleaner-burning stoves, and then found a sharp reduction in the level of indoor pollution. When used with charcoal, these inexpensive stoves made by local craftsmen reduced particulates by more than a factor of 10 and cut respiratory illness nearly in half.

Average particulate matter concentrations of 5,000 to 10,000 micrograms per cubic meter were not uncommon in the homes studied. The latest EPA standards limit exposure to more than 150 micro grams per cubic meter for a 24-hour period.

The researchers found that higher particulate levels correlated with higher rates of respiratory illness for both males and females.

Commercializing improved stoves and fuels, Kammen said, “can dramatically improve the health, economic and environmental situation among the poorest households in the world.”


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