Indoor Air Pollution: A Silent Killer

by Angelique Frausto on March 17, 2014

When we think of air pollution, we typically think of pollution to the environment caused as a result of waste from factories, or from gasoline powered cars.  These negatively impact our environment and health.  What many people do not realize is that there is also indoor air pollution, which disproportionately affects people in developing countries, particularly in rural areas, and especially women and children.  In some ways indoor air pollution can be more damaging to health than outdoor pollution. It accounts for 2.7% of the global burden of disease. WHO estimates that half of the worlds population depends on solid fuel for cooking and heating, which is a major source of indoor pollution.

Many people in developing nations use solid waste such as wood, charcoal, animal dung, crop waste and trash to heat their home or to cook food with. Smoke enters the home, and there is often poor ventilation, which causes health issues for families. Smoke releases damaging pollutants such as carbon monoxide. It can cause many health issues such as poisoning from carbon monoxide, “conjunctivitis, upper respiratory irritation and acute respiratory infection” and also chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer and reproductive issues. Because women often work in the home and cook, it disproportionately affects them, and because young children are often around their mothers and more susceptible to disease, they too are vulnerable.

Indoor air pollution not only affects individuals, it hurts the environment. Wood used as fuel causes deforestation in areas where trees and greens are cut down for fuel faster than they are grown. Also, the pollutants from stoves used for solid waste cause green house gas emissions.

Indoor air pollution reinforces the cycle of poverty. Family members who collect fuel that leads to indoor pollution often spend a large part of the day collecting or using fuel, making less time available for other tasks such as education or work. Those who become ill from pollution, are more easily susceptible to diseases and other health issues. While someone is sick, he or she cannot work, making a family fall deeper into poverty. Children who are sick are unable to attend school, thus lowering their education and future prospects and abilities.

In order to end indoor air pollution there must be efforts to raise awareness of it. This can be done through education efforts in communities, government policies, and also by mass media such as television and radios has shown to be quite effective.  It is important to directly involve women because women are the ones who use solid fuels and suffer most from it. Communities need to be aware of health consequences for themselves and their families. Cooking devices could be improved, less polluting fuels can be utilized and families can use solar cooking and heating, also changes can be made to allow ventilation in homes. In order to enact change there must be affordable alternatives to solid waste. One such alternative is improved cook stoves, which are relatively cheap, and can also be funded by the government and NGOs. These cook stoves provide improved health, time savings for household, and preservation of forests and ecosystems.

Various organizations are working to minimize indoor air pollution. WHO’s Program on Indoor Air Pollution focuses on research and evaluation, capacity building, evidence and policy-makers and databases. Global Alliance for Clean Cook Stoves is another organization that works to introduce cook stoves to areas in order to improve wellbeing and health.

People spend money on buying items such as coal instead of using their money on other essentials like food and clothes. By using alternative heat sources, families can spend money on their other needs. Improving indoor air pollution will not only save the lives of people, it will help them become healthier and enable them to prosper.


Sources: (photo) 

Skolnik, Richard L. Global Health 101. Burlington, MA: Jones &Bartlett Learning, 2012. Print


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