Indoor Air Pollution Caused by Cookstoves poses Health Risks

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are 4 million premature deaths (predominantly caused by respiratory and cardiovascular diseases) each year attributed to household air pollution created by using wood, coal and other solid fuels for cooking and heating homes.

A novel multi-country trial is being carried out by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with partial support through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to tackle the global health problem. The multimillion-dollar study will determine if using widely available, clean, alternative cooking fuel significantly reduces deaths and illnesses. The 5-year study is part of a broader international effort to research chronic lung diseases which are coordinated by the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD).

The NIH Director Francis S. Collins commented on the matter:

“Indoor air pollution caused by cookstoves is one of the top health risks in developing countries, causing deaths from low birth weight among babies, pneumonia in young children, and heart and lung problems in adults. By working with our global partners on alternative fuel solutions, we have an opportunity to reduce that risk significantly for millions of people.”

According to the WHO, there are approximately 3 billion people worldwide who are reliant on using solid fuels for both cooking and heating. The indoor pollution generated can cause a range of diseases such as pneumonia, heart disease, cancer and chronic lung disease.

The study which is led by Emory University in Atlanta plans to recruit 800 pregnant women at a number of trial sites and will randomly assign half to receive liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) stoves and a supply of gas. The trial will run until the child is 2 years old, a number of medical measurements will be then taken i.e. did the mother suffer from hypertension during pregnancy, the incidence of pneumonia and growth and development of the infants. Addition to this, several hundred older women will be assigned to each site and monitored to assess cardiopulmonary, metabolic and cancer outcomes. Biomarker analysis of blood and urine samples will also be carried out.

This cutting-edge study will hopefully provide an essential insight into the effects of air pollution produced by cookstoves reliant on LPG on health. The trial will also provide scientific evidence of potential alternatives to using solid fuels which may subsequently reduce the number of health issues related to indoor air pollution.

Polluted home air may impede child development

Leading UK indoor air quality expert Professor Hazim Awbi is warning that children’s development could be hindered by poor indoor air quality at home, as well as at school, as a recent study reveals the overwhelmingly negative impact that poor air quality can have on the brain’s function.

Researchers at Harvard University have shown that in buildings specially designed to have low levels of pollutants, occupants have a cognitive function score that is 61% higher than „conventional conditions‟ and in buildings where effective ventilation has been installed, cognitive function is 101% improved. The study builds on research conducted in the UK showing children’s cognitive ability at school, from attention and concentration to memory and recognition, was significantly diminished in classrooms where pollutants had built up due to a lack of effective ventilation.

People in the UK spend around 90% of their time indoors with 47% of us spending over 16 hours a day at home, leading Professor Awbi to warn that children in airtight homes are likely to be at risk of suffering poor cognitive function.

“We know that young children are one of the groups who spend a large amount of time at home, especially during their early, formative years. Where there is a lack of ventilation and where pollutants are allowed to build up, children‟s brain function is affected. Homes are becoming ever more airtight, and if steps are not taken by both homeowners and the government, there could be profound consequences on children‟s learning and development.” Prof Awbi says

Polluted indoor air quality can affect the brain through blood oxygenation in 4 seconds so Professor Awbi, therefore, recommends that: “The best way to prevent indoor air pollution affecting children’s brains is to reduce the levels of potentially dangerous particles by ensuring that homes are effectively ventilated, as allowing pollutants to accumulate reduces air quality and can lead to chronic exposure”.

Polluted indoor air is also linked to a range of health conditions including cardiovascular disease, asthma, allergy, COPD and even cancer. It is estimated that indoor air pollution claims many thousands of lives a year and accounts for the annual loss of 204,129 healthy life years in the UK.

If we are what we eat, what about what we breathe?

It’s time to eat, drink and breathe healthily

We’re frequently bombarded with advice on what we should and shouldn’t eat and how much we should or shouldn’t drink, but no-one ever tells us what we should or shouldn’t breathe – despite the fact that breathing polluted indoor air has been linked to a range of serious health conditions.
We breathe in far more than we eat and drink. On an average day, working-age people eat and drink a combined total of 2.7 litres, yet breathe a staggering 13,000 litres of air.

NHS experts offer wide-ranging advice on how to eat healthily; from 5 fruit and vegetables a day, guideline daily amounts on food products, to advice on red meat intake. The Government also recommend we drink 6-8 glasses of water a day and limit our daily alcohol intake but no advice is issued on what the air we are breathing in could be doing to our bodies, or what we can do about it.

This is despite the fact that we spend up to 90% of our time indoors and breathing polluted indoor air has been linked to allergies, asthma, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, airborne respiratory infections and cardiovascular disease.

Research shows that the best way to tackle indoor air pollution is to make sure that you have effective ventilation. This is because effective ventilation removes indoor air pollutants from the home, stopping them from accumulating and keeping indoor air quality at a healthy level.

Professor Peter Howarth, Consultant Physician at the University of Southampton, said:

“When individuals and families are exposed to a potent mix of airborne pollutants within the home, it is well documented that a range of health conditions occur more frequently. I have had many patients come to me with health problems due to indoor pollutants and this is normally down to poor ventilation and high levels of moisture in the air”.