Environmental scientist warns of cancer risk from wood-fired stove pollution

April 1, 2012

Air pollutants produced from typical wood-fired stoves in India and elsewhere have extremely high carcinogen content, an environmental scientist has warned.

In a lecture on “Incomplete Combustion: One of the World’s Biggest Killers” at Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF), Professor Kirk R. Smith, said that, the use of such cookers is significantly more damaging to one’s physical health than stoves powered by other means.

“It’s not the spectacular that kills you, it is the mundane,” Smith said. “And my purpose is not to push a particular technology; it is to get rid of smoke both inside and outside the household. One way to do that is to promote electric cooking devices that do not use wood or coal. Electric rice cookers and electric tea pots are efficient devices, and should not be used over an open fire,” said Smith, a professor of global environmental health at the University of California, Berkeley, US.

His work focuses primarily on the effects of pollution. Using combustion particles as his indicator, he was the first to quantify the exposure to polluted air amongst people in developing nations who cook indoors with solid fuels, such as wood or coal.

Indoor air pollution

Smith’s research concluded that indoor air pollution directly affects 40 per cent of the world’s population.

Exposure to the products of poor combustion, particularly small particles, is responsible for around 12 million premature deaths around the world annually.

“Health is a pillar of democracy, but democracy is also a pillar of health, to make sure that the poorest in the world are also covered. You cannot have a sustainable planet without education, but you cannot have a sustainable planet without good health either. And this includes the very poorest among us,” he said.

Dr Dirar Khoury, Acting Executive Director of QF’s Research Division, highlighted the importance of having academic luminaries share their expertise with a Qatari audience.

“At Qatar Foundation, we believe that a knowledge-based society is the only way forward to confront challenges and take advantage of the opportunities of tomorrow,” he said. “As such, we are privileged to have Professor Smith share with us his experiences in the field of environmental health, a priority for Qatar.”





About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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