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Clearing the Air

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cookstove.jpgBY STEPHEN HAWLEY

Throughout the world people burn wood, crop residues and dung in their homes for cooking and heating; the fire is often the center of home life. Fuel burning provides warm homes and hot meals, but at a price--a price I first learned about as a graduate student volunteering with Engineers Without Borders. I worked with other students at the University of Washington on a stove replacement project in the highlands of Bolivia. The community had requested this project for the benefits of reduced fuel use and comfort working in their kitchens, and we knew it would have respiratory health benefits as well.

In this week's Frontiers on the Environment lecture, IonE global renewable energy leadership fellow Jill Baumgartner described the great health benefits of reducing indoor air pollution. Her research provides designers with a measurable indicator that can predict health impacts of a stove design.

A few things I found interesting:

•    The risks of respiratory health problems from smoke are well established. Jill's research has shown for the first time that cardiovascular health is also significantly impacted.

•    This is a problem of impressive scale: The cardiovascular disease caused by indoor air pollution may account for 230,000 deaths each year in China alone.
•    To work, solutions must meet all the needs these indoor fires satisfy--cooking, boiling water, heating--and be socially acceptable.

•    Black carbon emissions are a significant indicator of the quality of the stove with respect to health and should be used in evaluating stove designs.

Jill was an expert on the health effects of indoor air pollution before coming to the Institute on the Environment. Through her fellowship at IonE she has expanded her expertise to leading interventional studies needed to prove efficacy of a solution before wider deployment. As an IonE fellow, Jill works to turn research insights into practical solutions for the people of the developing world.

You can view Jill's talk in the Frontiers on the Environment video archive here.

Stephen Hawley is a global renewable energy leadership fellow with the Institute on the Environment. Photo by Karan Singh Rathore (www.sanjhi.org)

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