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Your Environment. Your Health.

Cookstoves and Indoor Air

Three billion people, nearly half of the world's population, use inefficient stoves to cook their daily meals. Fueled by wood, coal, or dung, these traditional cookstoves or open fires produce smoke that contributes to the 4.3 million estimated annual deaths from exposures to household air pollution, with women and young children the most affected. Cookstove smoke contributes to a range of chronic illnesses and acute health impacts such as low birth weight and acute pneumonia in children under 5, lung cancer, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and cardiovascular disease. Reliance on biomass for cooking and heating puts increased pressure on natural resources and contributes to climate change through emissions of greenhouse gases. In addition, women and girls face personal security risks as they forage for fuel near refugee camps and conflict zones.

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NIEHS Efforts

Over the past eight years, NIEHS has invested an estimated $9 million in research related to cookstoves and their health effects, primarily in community-based intervention studies in Guatemala, Ecuador, Nepal, Pakistan, Ghana, and the U.S. with study endpoints including lower respiratory infection (LRI) and tuberculosis in children, low birth weight, COPD, and other respiratory conditions in adult women. NIEHS seeks to expand the geographic reach of its studies and research training programs, as well as evaluate the effectiveness of new cookstove technologies. Examples of some of the supported projects are below.

Chronic Respiratory Effects of Early Life PM Exposure

woman sitting next to cooking stove with pots of foodKirk Smith, University of California, Berkeley |  
This project in rural Guatemala is addressing the effects of exposure during infancy to particulate matter in biomass smoke from cookstoves on the incidence of respiratory symptoms, growth of lung function, development of allergic sensitization to inhaled antigens, airway responsiveness, and somatic growth later in childhood.

Cookstove Replacement for Prevention of ARI and Low Birth Weight in Nepal

James Tielsch, Johns Hopkins University |  
This research program aims to determine which interventions are most effective in reducing the burden of death and illness among women and children in high-risk populations in southern Nepal, where acute respiratory illness (ARI) is a leading cause of death in young children.

In May, 2011, NIEHS partnered with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the Fogarty International Center (FIC) to convene an international workshop on the “Health Burden of Indoor Air Pollution on Women and Children in Developing Countries.”  Nine workgroups deliberated on research needs in specific focus areas, including cancer, cardiovascular outcomes, infection, respiratory disease, exposure assessment and biomarkers, pregnancy and neonatal outcomes, burns and eye injuries, and behavioral and empowerment issues.  These recommendations have informed the research agenda of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves as well as NIH and other institutions. 

Publications from the workshop include:

NIH and Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is a public-private partnership to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and combat climate change by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions. The goal of the Alliance, which is sponsored by the United Nations Foundation, several U.S. government agencies, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), and other partners, is "100 by 20": a call for 100 million homes in the developing world to adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020, with a long-term vision of universal adoption of clean and efficient cooking solutions.

As one of the federal agencies involved in the Alliance, the NIH is committing nearly $25 million over five years to support ongoing research and research training projects, as well as new efforts to develop improved measuring devices and expand epidemiologic studies.

The following NIH institutes, centers and offices are involved in the effort:

  1. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
  2. The Fogarty International Center (FIC)
  3. National Cancer Institute (NCI)
  4. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
  5. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)
  6. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
  7. Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR)
  8. Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH)

NIEHS Senior Advisor for Public Health John M. Balbus, M.D., M.P.H, serves as the NIEHS representative to the Global Alliance.

  1. Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves Fact Sheet (1MB)
  2. Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves Frequently Asked Questions (140KB)
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