Investigating the factors contributing to indoor air pollution

December 15, 2021

 

A new paper from recent PhD graduate Dr. Matthew Shupler and others at the School of Population and Public Health (SPPH) sheds new light on several environmental and socioeconomic factors that contribute to hazardous household air pollution across eight low- and middle-income countries.

 

The study, co-authored by SPPH’s Dr. Michael Brauer, Matthew Jeronimo, Yen Li Chu, and Aaron Birch, looked at the distribution of household air pollution levels where individuals cook with “polluting” fuels like wood, coal and animal dung, and considered factors including kitchen ventilation, time spent in the kitchen, use of polluting heating fuels and second-hand smoke exposure, to compare household air pollution levels across the countries.

 

Dr. Matthew Shupler

In low and middle-income countries where women are disproportionately tasked with cooking, it was thought that they would have higher household air pollution exposures than men. Interestingly, in many countries (China, India, Chile, Colombia) included in the study, men had similar or higher average air pollution exposure levels than women. Because these countries are rapidly industrialising, and are known to have high levels of ambient air pollution, Dr. Shupler explains that “males were possibly exposed to more outdoor air pollution than females in these countries, since they were more likely to travel outside the home, including during their commute to their place of employment.”

 

Dr. Shupler and his co-authors also found that household air pollution, measured by levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in kitchens, varies greatly depending on the country and is not consistent by cooking fuel type. This suggests that in some countries, outdoor air pollution is likely influencing the amount of air pollution indoors, including in kitchens.

 

Based on these findings, reducing household air pollution may provide a greater benefit in certain, less developed regions where cooking with polluting fuels is a larger contributor to air pollution, compared to countries where outdoor pollution is the major exposure source. The study also highlights the overall importance of reducing outdoor pollution from industrial and traffic sources in urbanising countries to lower individuals’ exposure to air pollution and protect population health.