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Air Quality

Published on March 31st, 2014 | by James Ayre


Cleaner Cooking Fuels & Improved Kitchen Ventilation Lead To Far-Better Lung-Health, 9-Year Study Shows

March 31st, 2014 by  

The switch from relatively dirty types of cooking fuels, such as biomass, to cleaner ones — along with improvements to kitchen ventilation — can greatly reduce the likelihood of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as improve other markers of lung health, according to the results of a 9-year study conducted in southern China.

The study — which was led by Pixin Ran of the Guanzhou Medical University — followed 996 villagers for a period of 9 years, while examining the effects of cleaner fuels and better kitchen ventilation on lung function and disease.

Image Credit: Stove via Flickr CCImage Credit: Stove via Flickr CC

Biomass (wood, dung) is one of the most commonly used types of fuel for cooking and space-heating purposes in the world — an estimated 3 billion people worldwide rely on such fuels. While biomass is certainly effective for these purposes, a number of problems accompany its use — of which, one of the most prominent is air pollution. It’s well known that this indoor air pollution is one of the top killers in the regions that rely on biomass, but not much research has been done to examine the “long-term consequences of improving indoor air pollution on lung function and disease” in such regions. That’s what this new 9-year study set out to quantify.

The press release provides more:

For this study, the researchers offered nearly 1000 participants from 12 villages access to biogas (a combustible clean fuel made by composting biomass at room temperature in a biogas digester) and improved kitchen ventilation, and people adopted these interventions according to their preferences. The participants provided details about their lifestyle and had their lung function measured both at the outset of the study and at its end 9 years later, and some were also interviewed and examined 3 and 6 years into the study. The researchers also tested indoor air quality in a random subset of participants’ households.

Compared with those who chose not to change fuel or ventilation, participants who used biogas or improved their kitchen ventilation retained more of their lung function as they aged. People who adopted both improvements performed even better in lung function tests, and they were also less likely to develop COPD.

Given the design of the study, the research doesn’t “prove” that the improvements caused better lung function and less COPD, but it certainly does make the case for a strong association. Not exactly surprising findings, but hopefully ones that can perhaps spur government/non-profit action in relevant regions.

The conclusion of the study authors is that “while we recognize that implementing community interventions to change how individuals cook in rural settings in developing countries remains a challenging task, substituting biogas for biomass fuel for cooking and improving kitchen ventilation could lead to a reduction of the global burden of COPD, especially in non-industrialized nations.”

The new research was just published in the journal PLOS Medicine


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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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