WHO tells us why good air indoors matters

According to a Nov. 12, 2014 World Health Organization (WHO) news release, the organization announced new guidelines: guidelines that provide information related to disease burden and premature death attributed to the effects of inside-the-home air pollution; plus there is considerable mention of achievable emissions targets for domestic appliances, and other items, including recommendations on stopping indoor use of environmentally unfriendly fuels for cooking, heating and lighting purposes.

In going into greater detail, the WHO wrote: “The new ‘WHO guidelines for indoor air quality: household fuel combustion’ stress the need to improve access to cleaner home energy sources such as liquefied petroleum gas, biogas, natural gas and ethanol, or electricity, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

“These new guidelines come after WHO findings earlier this year revealed that more than 7 million deaths – one in eight of total global deaths – are due to indoor or outdoor air pollution exposure. According to the estimates, some 4.3 million people worldwide die every year from household air pollution emitted by rudimentary biomass and coal cookstoves.”

Unfortunately, the number of such deaths appears to be on the increase. In “Indoor air pollution far more problematic than previously suspected,” posted over a year-and-a-half-ago on Apr. 10, noted is the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) News Centre press release: “World Health Day: Climate and Clean Air Coalition Targets Indoor and Outdoor Air Pollution.”

Bituminous coal
Bituminous coal

In that release, UNEP wrote: “According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the health dangers presented by air pollution are far larger than previously thought. ‘Air pollution is becoming one of the biggest public health issues we have in front of us at the moment,’ Dr. Maria Neira, Director of Public Health and Environment at WHO, said at a recent [Climate and Clean Air Coalition] meeting. ‘The estimations we have now tell us there are 3.5 million premature deaths every year caused by household air pollution, and 3.3 million deaths every year caused by outdoor air pollution.’”

The jump to 4.3 million, up from 3.5 million represents an almost 23 percent gain.

In its “WHO sets benchmarks to reduce health damage from indoor air pollution,” news release, the WHO has delineated by cause, deaths attributable to household air pollution. The diseases and their percentages are:

  • Stroke – 34%
  • Ischaemic heart disease – 26%
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – 22%
  • Childhood pneumonia – 12%
  • Lung cancer – 6%

“These diseases are primarily caused by high levels of fine particulate matter and carbon monoxide released by the burning of solid fuels such as wood, coal, animal dung, crop waste and charcoal in inefficient stoves, space heaters or lamps,” the WHO observed.

That there is a pressing need to significantly reduce the number of premature deaths and disease burden tied to indoor air pollution is obvious.

“The guidelines include emissions targets for different kinds of domestic appliances, for both carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter,” emphasized the WHO in the release. “The targets are the result of years of review of the health impacts of household air pollution emissions and careful examination of the levels by which emissions would have to be reduced in order to meet WHO guidelines for air quality.”

And, as cited in the WHO release, Dr. Neira added: “‘If the new emission targets are met, then some 90% of homes globally will meet WHO’s air quality standards.’”

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