Women around the world tend smoky stoves as they work to keep their families warm and well-fed. For some, it's a health hazard. In a study just published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, IonE global renewable energy leadership fellow Jill Baumgartner and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison reported a disconcerting link between indoor air pollution from stoves used for heating and cooking and increased blood pressure in older women.
Some 2 billion people in the developing world are exposed to large doses of small-particle air pollution when they heat and cook with a biomass fuel such as wood. Baumgartner and colleagues outfitted 280 women in a remote area of Yunnan Province, China, with a device that sampled the air they breathed. The women's communities have central, free-standing kitchens that often have both a stove and a fire pit. They found higher levels of indoor air pollution were associated with higher blood pressure among women aged 50 and older.
"I spent a lot of time watching women cook in these unvented kitchens, and within seconds, my eyes would burn, it would get a little difficult to breathe. The women talk
about these same discomforts, but they are viewed as just another hardship of rural life," Baumgartner says.
Improving stoves or changing fuels can cut indoor air pollution 50 to 75 percent. In this study, such a reduction was linked to a drop in blood pressure that the researchers estimate would translate into an 18 percent decrease in coronary heart disease and a 22 percent decrease in stroke among Asian women aged 50 to 59.
Baumgartner is currently working in India on an IonE Discovery Grant project in which researchers are measuring the impacts on air pollution and health of a program that replaces conventional polluting stoves with cleaner alternatives. Listen to Baumgartner describe the project: