Indoor Air Pollution: Turning Kitchens Into Death Traps


It might shock you to hear that the environmental problem causing more deaths than malaria and HIV is, in fact, indoor air pollution.

According to a new study published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, indoor air pollution kills between 3.5 and 4.3 million people worldwide every year.

Almost all of these deaths occur in poor countries where people’s living quarters are generally very small, with no access to electricity. A lack of electricity forces people living in these circumstances to burn coal, wood and even animal dung to produce the fire they need to cook food and heat their homes in colder weather.

Unlike in the UK and other countries where solutions to reduce indoor air pollution are the norm, around 3 billion people every day are subject to household air pollution as a result of burning solid fuels in poorer countries.

In remote, rural areas of Nepal and Afghanistan animal dung is most common, whereas in China the root of the problem is coal. The danger is carbon monoxide and sometimes particulate matter, which often has a similar toxicity to a busy highway to put it into perspective.

Change Needs to Happen

To prevent these disadvantaged people from having to pollute their own homes to simply cook a meal, there needs to be hefty investment if they are ever going to have access to electricity. As many as 1.2 billion people have no access to electric grids like the UK’s, so implementing this kind of change would be a massive project.

There has been effort to provide people with alternative, cleaner fuels (such as liquefied petroleum gas) and better cooking equipment over the years, however there has been debate over these not being affordable enough to replace the current cooking methods. The solution needs to be fast and affordable in order to be sustainable for those in need.

Lives are at Risk

The Lancet Respiratory Medicine report examines the connection between respiratory infections and indoor air pollution, as well as cancers and chronic lung diseases.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), both adults and children are affected by conditions such as acute and chronic respiratory conditions (such as pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, strokes and cataracts.

Evidence also suggests that exposure to household air pollution can also result in tuberculosis, upper aero-digestive tracts and different types of cancers in new born babies. Other impacts on health include low birth weight, perennial mortality and asthma. Add this to the already low infant mortality rate in poorer countries such as Afghanistan, Niger and Somalia, and the picture looks very bleak.

The Bigger Picture

Despite being an increasingly severe problem in developing countries, little is known about the devastating effects of indoor air pollution by the general public in Western countries like the UK and US.

Reuben Dickison
I am a semi retired management consultant with a new found passion for sustainable living. I have a small homestead in rural New York and when I am not tending to the various goats, chicken and pigs, I write on ecological and natural health issues.