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Indoor Air Pollution Is One Of The Deadliest Things On Earth

Smoke from indoor stoves kills a massive number of people every year. What’s the solution?

Indoor air pollution is a big killer, and cook stoves are the main culprit. The World Health Organization says up to 4 million people a year die prematurely due to stove smoke, placing the problem above malaria or tuberculosis. Arguably, it’s an even more serious issue than outdoor pollution, though that tends to get more publicity.

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This infographic (see below for the whole thing) was produced by Airfilters.com on behalf of the Global Alliance For Clean Cookstoves, which promotes alternatives such as advanced biomass, solar and ethanol stoves. We’ve written about a few projects here, including this one, and this one.


As the graphic shows, cook fumes are most likely to affect women and children inside the home. Burning wood, dung, agricultural waste or coal produces fine soot particles that bury themselves in the lungs. Carbon monoxide inhibits oxygen from entering the bloodstream, while nitrogen oxide combines with air moisture to produce acid that burns away lung walls. Indoor air pollution contributes to bronchiolitis and anemia in children, and strokes and heart attacks in adults.

The WHO says a safe limit for particles measuring 1/100th of a millimeter (PM10) is 50 micrograms per cubic meter. Homes with “unsafe cookstoves” often have measurements 100 times that number, it says. The problem is acutest in China, India, and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Global Alliance says advanced stoves–which aim to burn fuel more efficiently–can reduce pollution by two-thirds, while using propane cuts it by 95%. Solar powered stoves require no fuel at all, and produce zero emissions (engineers have even begun to develop models you can use at night). The models the Alliance recommends cost between $15 to $150.

Kelsey Lervants, at Airfilters.com, says the high rate of death and illness in the developing world should prompt us into action. “Most of us have caught onto the news about China’s air pollution shaving years off of a person’s life. But children in developing countries are 12 times more likely to die due to indoor air pollution. We’re not arguing that one issue is more important than the other, but the developing world should get the same attention.”


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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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