From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published November 1, 2012 03:34 PM

Researchers study effects of open-fire cooking on air quality and human health

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has just launched a study examining the impact of open-fire cooking on regional air quality and human health.

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The study will look at atmospheric air pollutants and human diseases in terms of the effects of smoke from traditional cooking methods in households, villages, and entire regions particularly in northern Ghana.

There are many factors that force developing countries to rely on cooking food with open flame fires. For example, electricity and energy sources are extremely scarce and lead natives to use dried plant stalks and other mediums for fuel. Research suggests that the continued use of these open fire pits and stoves has the potential to create problems for local populations.

"Often when you visit remote villages in Ghana, they're shrouded in haze for many miles from all the fires used for cooking," says NCAR scientist Christine Wiedinmyer, an atmospheric chemist overseeing the project. "Given that an estimated three billion people worldwide are cooking over fire and smoke, we need to better understand how these pollutants are affecting public health as well as regional air quality and even the climate."

Consequently, indoor and outdoor cooking fires in developing countries are creating carbon monoxide, particulates, and smog pollution. These can cause a variety of symptoms, ranging from headaches and nausea, to potentially life-threatening conditions, including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

The fires also emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that, when mixed into the atmosphere can affect weather patterns and create climate change. Subsequently, as regional temperatures warm, an increase of air pollution can occur, thereby potentially leading to even greater health risks.

Researchers will use newly developed sensors with computer and statistical models to look at what happens to human health when traditional cooking methods are used. They will also evaluate whether newer, more efficient cook stoves could reduce disease and positively affect regional air quality. The technology will include smartphone applications that are more mobile than traditional air quality sensors along with cutting-edge computer models of weather, air quality, and climate.

Researchers will also rely on interviews with villagers on their views of adopting different cooking methods and whether these techniques will be efficient in daily routines. They also will rely on individuals to track any possible connections between open-fire cooking and disease.

Read more at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

Cooking over fire image via Shutterstock.

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