Story of the day

Indoor air pollution kills 4.3 million in 2012

No norms for killer fumes in Indian homes

New Delhi, March 26 (G'nY news service): Air pollution killed seven million people in 2012, according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, while half of these deaths were linked to indoor air pollution.

As reported by BBC, Dr. Maria Neira, WHO public health, environmental and social determinants of health department director, said, “The evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.” Air pollution causes one in eight deaths in the world.

WHO found that 40 per cent of the deaths related to outdoor air pollution were caused by heart disease, 40 per cent due to stroke, 11 per cent due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), 6 due to lung cancer and 3 due to acute lower respiratory infections in children. Indoor air pollution related deaths were caused in majority by stroke – 34 per cent, followed by heart disease – 22 per cent, COPD – 22 per cent, acute lower respiratory infections in children – 12 per cent and lung cancer – 6 per cent.

WHO estimated that there were about 4.3 million deaths in 2012 caused by indoor air pollution, mostly people cooking inside using wood and coal stoves in Asia. The report says that women and children are most susceptible to it.

Country-wise data for deaths linked to air pollution is not available yet.

India, where 63 per cent of the population uses solid fuels - coal/coke/lignite, firewood, dung, and crop residue, does not have any norms for indoor air pollution. “We only monitor ambient air quality,” said Gurnam Singh, in-charge of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) Air Lab.

“Indoor air quality is the largest killer in India,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, the executive director of Centre for Environment and Science. Apart from the focus on efficient burning, said Roychowdhury, an energy transition to cleaner fuels like LPG and electricity is needed.

Standards and guidelines exist for indoor air quality in Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Canada, France, Germany, UK, Finland and Norway. The norms in some of these countries – like Canada and Finland – are implemented through building codes, and are based on WHO guidelines, like in Japan.

As observed in a research paper by the Environmental Management Centre (EMC), a Mumbai based NGO, China's National Improved Stoves Program, which began in the early 1980s and ended in 1995, is one of the largest cook stoves replacement programme aimed at improving IAQ and reducing the disease burden. The Chinese Environmental Protection Agency (MEP) has a defined IAQ standard which covers four physical parameters including temperature, relative humidity, air flow and fresh air intake and refers to 13 chemical parameters, biological and radioactive parameters. These parameters are applicable to residential and office buildings.

A senior advisor of the Planning Commission, who chose to remain anonymous, believes that separate norms are not necessary for indoor air pollution. “The existing stoves must be replaced with ‘healthy’ stoves which do not affect the respiratory system as well as the eyes. Non-conventional energy can be used for indoor activities.” The advisor reiterated that the Air Act, 1981 was sufficient to maintain indoor air quality. The Act does not have any norms that control or measure indoor air pollution.

Sandeep Mukherjee, the assistant Vice President at EMC, said that norms need to be introduced to cover both artificially and naturally ventilated buildings as the air quality inside the building can be seven times worse than the ambient air quality. Mukherjee added that the kitchen must be shifted outside the home to improve air quality where solid fuels are used.

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