Indoor air pollution and household energy: The Unknown Dangers
Edited By Olabisi Adesina
London, July 3, 2018 (AltAfrica)-You might think of your home as the safest place from air pollution but you are wrong. According to the World Health Organization, around 3 billion people still cook and warm their homes using open fires and stoves that use solid fuel such as coal or wood. In addition, around eight million Australians have cats and/or dogs contributing to potential allergy triggers. You may just not realize it but the air you breathe inside your home (or office) may even be more hazardous than outside air because of indoor air pollution.
Chances of indoor air pollution are especially high during winter where houses and offices are usually kept shut. Without proper condition and circulation of air, dangers to you and your family health only get worse. Based on recent reports from WHO, over 4 million people die from illness caused by indoor air pollution rising from cooking with solid fuels like coal. What’s alarming is not only adults are susceptible to this danger but conditions are worst for children. Indoor air pollution is responsible for more than 50% of pneumonia-related deaths in children (aged 4 and below) because of inhaled soot.
Many people refuse to believe that there is imminent danger in their own homes. But the numbers cannot lie, according to reports, 3.8 million non-communicable deaths every year are attributed to exposure to household air pollution.
.Impact on health
4.3 million people a year die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution caused by the inefficient use of solid fuels (2012 data) for cooking. Among these deaths:
- 12% are due to pneumonia
- 34% from stroke
- 26% from ischaemic heart disease
- 22% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and
- 6% from lung cancer
Exposure to household air pollution almost doubles the risk for childhood pneumonia. Over half of deaths among children less than 5 years old from acute lower respiratory infections (ALRI) are due to particulate matter inhaled from indoor air pollution from household solid fuels (WHO, 2014).
Nearly one quarter of all premature deaths due to stroke (i.e. about 1.4 million deaths of which half are in women) can be attributed to the chronic exposure to household air pollution caused by cooking with solid fuels.
Ischaemic heart disease
Approximately 15% of all deaths due to ischaemic heart disease, accounting for over a million premature deaths annually, can be attributed to exposure to household air pollution.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Over one-third of premature deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in adults in low- and middle-income countries are due to exposure to household air pollution. Women exposed to high levels of indoor smoke are more than 2 times as likely to suffer from COPD than women who use cleaner fuels. Among men (who already have a heightened risk of COPD due to their higher rates of smoking), exposure to indoor smoke nearly doubles (i.e. 1.9) that risk.
Approximately 17% of annual premature lung cancer deaths in adults are attributable to exposure to carcinogens from household air pollution caused by cooking with solid fuels like wood, charcoal or coal. The risk for women is higher, due to their role in food preparation.
Other health impacts and risks
More generally, small particulate matter and other pollutants in indoor smoke inflame the airways and lungs, impairing immune response and reducing the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.
There is also evidence of links between household air pollution and low birth weight, tuberculosis, cataract, nasopharyngeal and laryngeal cancers.
Mortality from ischaemic heart disease and stroke are also affected by risk factors such as high blood pressure, unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity and smoking. Some other risks for childhood pneumonia include suboptimal breastfeeding, underweight and second-hand smoke. For lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, active smoking and second-hand tobacco smoke are also main risk factors.
Without a substantial change in policy, the total number of people relying on solid fuels will remain largely unchanged by 2030 (World Bank, 2010). The use of polluting fuels also poses a major burden on sustainable development.
- Fuel gathering consumes considerable time for women and children, limiting other productive activities (e.g. income generation) and taking children away from school. In less secure environments, women and children are at risk of injury and violence during fuel gathering.
- Black carbon (sooty particles) and methane emitted by inefficient stove combustion are powerful climate change pollutants.
- The lack of access to electricity for at least 1.2 billion people (many of whom then use kerosene lamps for lighting) exposes households to very high levels of fine particulate matter, as well introduces other health risks, e.g. burns, injuries and poisonings from fuel ingestion, constraining other opportunities for health and development, e.g. studying or engaging in small crafts and trades, which require adequate lighting.Prevent problems.
To discourage dust mites, encase your pillows, mattresses, and box springs in dust-mite-proof covers. Wash very dirty or dusty laundry in the hottest water.
Ventiliate. Cooking, cleaning, using hair spray, and polishing your nails can release volatile organic compounds that are linked to a variety of health problems. Use exhaust hoods or fans in the kitchen and bathroom to reduce your exposure and minimize humidity that can cause mold and mildew. Before you use your fireplace, make sure the flue damper is wide open. Poor ventilation can allow pollutants to stay in the air.
Ban smoking. Don’t smoke or allow others to do so in your home or car.
Eliminate odors, don’t mask them. Find the source of bad smells (a rotting potato in the cupboard? musty blankets? a pet accident?) and clean it up. Where appropriate, use a box of baking soda in the area instead of air fresheners, which cost more and can contain VOCs and phthalates.
Make your cleaning count. Because dust can harbor pollen, pet dander, bacteria, mites, mold, and mildew, dust furnishings regularly with a damp rag or an electrostatically charged duster. Vacuum often, ideally with a low-emissions vacuum.
Control critters. Seal cracks and crevices and put food away. You’ll be less apt to attract pests and need to use pesticides. To minimize your exposure to pet dander, banish pets from sleeping areas and upholstered furniture.
Rethink pricey fixes. There’s little medical evidence that an air cleaner alone can ease allergies and asthma; try low-cost solutions first. And there’s no proof that cleaning ducts prevents health problems or that dirty ducts increase airborne particulates.