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Indoor Pollution Kills Millions Each Year

The WHO finds that poor cooking, heating and lighting technologies are killing millions of people each year.
Indoor Pollution Kills Millions Each Year
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Health Report.

The way we cook is important. In many countries, the two choices are natural gas or electric-powered stoves.

The World Health Organization warns that millions of people are dying every year from indoor air pollution.

Indoor air pollution results from the use of dangerous fuels and cook-stoves in the home. To help fight the problem, the WHO announced new guidelines aimed at reducing household pollutants.

WHO officials say nearly three billion people are unable to use clean fuels and technologies for cooking, heating and lighting. And they say more than seven million people die from exposure to indoor or outdoor air pollution each year. Of that number, the WHO says about 4.3 million people die from household air pollution given off by simple biomass and coal cook-stoves.

Most of the deaths are in developing countries.

The WHO’s plan of action for reducing indoor pollutants is based on new findings. These findings show that the use of toxic fuels in inefficient stoves, space heaters or lights is to blame for many of these deaths.

Rev. Grace Akunor of Ghana chops wood to burn in a hand-made, efficient, clean-burning cook stoves constructed from mud bricks, a safer alternative to open fires that cause 1.6 million deaths annually in the world's poorest countries.
Rev. Grace Akunor of Ghana chops wood to burn in a hand-made, efficient, clean-burning cook stoves constructed from mud bricks, a safer alternative to open fires that cause 1.6 million deaths annually in the world's poorest countries.

Carlos Dora is Coordinator in the WHO's Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. He says people should not use unprocessed coal and kerosene fuel indoors. He says opening a window or door to let out the harmful air will not correct the situation. It will only pollute the outdoors.

“You cannot expect that a bit of ventilation is going to get rid of this. It is really about very clean technologies and clean fuels. And, the fuel story has not been stressed enough so far in the global debate. So, that is the new thing. We should be going for clean fuels. We should be avoiding coal. We should be avoiding kerosene and we should be going for the solar, the LPG (liquified petroleum gas), the ethanol ... the solutions that we know exist that can address a big proportion of this issue.”

WHO officials say indoor pollution leads to early deaths from stroke, heart and lung disease, childhood pneumonia and lung cancer. Women and girls are the main victims.

The WHO says these diseases can often result from high levels of fine particulate matter and carbon monoxide released by the burning of solid fuels. These fuels include wood, coal, animal waste, crop waste and charcoal.

The United Nations found that more than 95 percent of households in sub-Saharan Africa depend on solid fuels for cooking. It says huge populations in India, China and Latin American countries, such as Guatemala and Peru, also are at risk.

​Nigel Bruce is a professor of Public Health at the University of Liverpool. He says researchers are developing good cook-stoves and other equipment to burn fuels in a more efficient way.

“There are already multiple technologies available for use in clean fuels. There is really quite an effective and reasonably low-cost ethanol stove that is made by Dometic (a Sweden-based company) that is now being tested out .. it has been tested out in a number of African countries and we do report results from that in the guidelines. LPG cook is obviously widely available and efforts are under way to make those efficient. Another interesting development is electric induction stoves."

WHO experts note some new, safe and low-cost technologies that could help are already available. In India, you can buy an induction stove for about $8.00. And in Africa you can buy a solar lamp for less than $1.00.

But, this, the agency says, is just a start. It is urging developing countries to use cleaner fuels and increase access to cleaner and more modern cooking and heating appliances.

I’m Anna Matteo.

This report was based on a story from reporter Lisa Schlein in Geneva, Switzerland. Anna Matteo wrote the story for VOA Learning English. George Grow edited it.


Words in this Story

indoor adj. done, living, located, or used inside a building

particulate - n. a substance made up of very small separate particles

kerosene n. a kind of oil that is burned as a fuel — often used before another noun such as a kerosene heater and kerosene lamp; kerosene is called “paraffin” in British English

induction (stoves)- adj. Induction cooking heats by electric current instead by a flame or heating element.

appliancen. a machine (such as a stove, microwave, or dishwasher) that is powered by electricity and that is used in people's homes

This video from Lancet TV shows information found in their report on indoor pollution published on September 3, 2014. Some of the figures may differ slightly from the World Health Organization. (As the Lancet is a British organization, the pronunciation in this video is, of course, in British English.)

For more information on clean cook-stove technology, visit

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