Biomass products in the form of wood, animal dung and agricultural waste are the main source of energy for heating and cooking among half of the world’s population. These are considered to be high polluting fuels (HPF), and the smoke they produce is the cause of indoor air pollution (IAP).
Exposure to HPF is estimated to cause 1.5 million deaths each year; a third of which occur in India. Almost 60% of these deaths occur in women and children because they typically spend the most time near open fires or inefficient stoves with inadequate ventilation. Health problems such as stillbirths and miscarriages among pregnant women have been well documented. However, the relationship between exposure to IAP and childhood problems such as acute lower respiratory illness have been less studied.
To help assess the impact of IAP on young children from birth to 3 years of age, researchers funded by the Population Dynamics Branch reviewed and analyzed the results of three national family health surveys conducted between 1992 and 2006 in India. The data showed that the use of HPF greatly increased the risk for symptoms of acute lower respiratory tract infection in infants and toddlers.
Use of these high polluting fuels declined slightly over the 15-year time period, but more than three-fourths of households continue to use them (PMID: 23582613).