Air pollution has been found to be the world’s largest single environmental health hazard, according to a study by WHO (as published in the recent issue of PLOS Medicine). Around 4.3 million deaths each year are reported as a result of indoor pollution, out of which 1 million are due to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) itself. A recent report attribute this to burning biomass products at homes, mostly in developing countries, which results in the release of highly harmful air pollutants like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matters among others. Around 3 billion people in the world use these combustion fuels for cooking — which puts them at a greater risk of lung infections and COPD.
A new study was recently conducted by researchers at Guanzhou Medical University, China, in order to compare the effects of indoor biomass combustion against cleaner biogas and proper ventilation. This study was led by Pixin Ran and his team, who followed around 1,000 villagers from Southern China and observed them for a span of 9 years, in accordance with their choice of fuel, ventilation, and subsequent effects on health.
1,000 villagers from 12 villages were chosen and were given safer and healthier options for combustion fuels (biogas) composted at room temperature. The ventilation in their kitchen was also improved and the same setting was maintained for 9 years, all through which their lung functions were tested (in 3 or 6 year intervals as well).
On obtaining the results for this study, it was observed that people who took up either a cleaner and safer form of combustion fuel, maintained proper ventilation, or complied with both, were better off in their lung function tests as compared to those who stuck to their conventional practice. This showed that the former group of patients were at a lower risk of developing lung infections.
Due to the absence of a particular control group or intervention group (who used biogas, improved ventilation or both) a direct link with COPD could not be developed.
On a concluding remark, the authors said, “while we recognize that implementing community interventions to change how individuals cook in rural settings in developing countries remains a challenging task, substituting biogas for biomass fuel for cooking and improving kitchen ventilation could lead to a reduction of the global burden of COPD, especially in non-industrialized nations.”