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WHO highlights dangers of indoor air pollution

New guidelines aimed at halting use of unprocessed coal and kerosene as a home energy source

Guidelines highlighting the dangers of indoor air pollution caused by burning fuels such as coal and kerosene have been released by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The document, entitled ‘WHO guidelines for indoor air quality: household fuel combustion’, stresses the need to improve access to cleaner home energy sources such as biogas, natural gas, and electricity in low and middle-income countries.

Unprocessed coal has been identified as unsuitable as a home energy source by WHO

Unprocessed coal has been identified as unsuitable as a home energy source by WHO

The guidelines come after WHO findings earlier this year revealed that more than 7 million deaths – one in eight of total global deaths – are due to indoor or outdoor air pollution exposure.

According to the estimates, some 4.3 million people worldwide die every year from household air pollution emitted by rudimentary biomass and coal cookstoves.

WHO observed that many fatal diseases, including ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, childhood pneumonia and lung cancer, are primarily caused by high levels of fine particulate matter and carbon monoxide.

The guidelines include emissions targets for different kinds of domestic appliances, for both carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter.

The targets are the result of years of review of the health impacts of household air pollution emissions and careful examination of the levels by which emissions would have to be reduced in order to meet WHO guidelines for air quality.

WHO also recommends halting the use of unprocessed coal as household fuel, while the incomplete combustion of coal in inefficient stoves and space heaters can lead to severe illness and premature death.

Kerosene

The use of kerosene as a household fuel is also discouraged amid concerns around its adverse impact on air quality and safety. Kerosene is also associated with burns, fires and poisoning.

Dr Maria Neira, WHO director for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, said: “Ensuring cleaner air in and around the home is fundamental to reducing the burden of disease from air pollution, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

“The new WHO guidelines aim to help countries introduce cleaner technologies, improve air quality in poor households, reduce pollution-related diseases and save lives.”

Dr Carlos Dora, WHO coordinator for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, added: “In order to meet the new targets, there needs to be rapid scale-up in access to cleaner and more modern cooking and heating appliances, as well as lamps, in developing country homes.

“We need to scale up the use of clean fuels such as biogas, ethanol, or natural or liquefied petroleum gas with appropriate venting, as well as solar electricity solutions for lighting, and clean technologies and fuels should be priced within reach of the lowest-income households.”

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Stephanie Trotter
6 years ago

So why does everyone still talk about climate change and not planet poisoning?