Household Air Pollution from Coal and Biomass Fuels in China: Measurements, Health Impacts, and Interventions – Junfeng Zhang and Kirk R. Smith

From Environmental Health Perspectives:

Although some areas of China are becoming more urban, more than 60% of the population is still rural, most of which still uses biomass (mainly wood and crop residues) and coal fuels that produce substantial pollution in simple stoves. In 2003 approximately 80% of the energy consumed by rural households was in the form of biomass and almost 10% as coal. Furthermore, although most Chinese cities have plans to eliminate coal for households, many urban communities continue to rely on coal. The combustion of biomass and coal (collectively called “solid fuels”) is the dominant source of indoor (IAP) in the country and contributes significantly to the total burden of ill health.

In the most recent global analysis of the health effects of major risk factors, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that solid fuels used in Chinese households cause approximately 420,000 premature deaths annually; this is 40% more than the approximately 300,000 premature deaths attributed to outdoor air pollution in Chinese cities with populations of more than 100,000 (Cohen et al. 2004; Smith et al. 2004). Household use of solid fuels is thus estimated to be the largest single environmental risk factor and ranks sixth among all risk factors examined for ill-health (Figure 1; Smith et al. 2005). These risk estimates, however, were based primarily on studies in other countries because, as discussed in this review, few epidemiologic studies have been conducted in China on biomass smoke compared with those conducted on coal smoke.

In this review we address the following questions in order to put Chinese household IAP from solid fuel use into perspective, nationally and internationally, and highlight research gaps: a) What toxic constituents have been found in the emissions of solid fuel combustion? b) What are the reported human exposure characteristics? c) What health effects have been documented? and d) What technologies exist or are possible for reducing this IAP exposure? [Full Text]

Kirk R. Smith is Professor of Environmental Health Sciences and holds the Maxwell Endowed Chair in at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Junfeng (Jim) Zhang is Professor and Acting Chair of Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at UMDNJ-School of .



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