A silent killer seems to be lurking in most Indian rural kitchens using biomass as fuel, a World Health Organisation (WHO)-sponsored study has concluded.
Exposure of women to biomass fuels like wood, animal dung, agricultural waste affects lungs, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), raises risk of cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and even disturbs menstrual cycle and affects reproductive cabilities.
The study, completed in December, was sponsored by WHO and conducted by Kolkata-based Nature Enviornment and Wildlife Society (NEWS). Former director of National Cancer Institute Dr Twisha Lahiri led the research team.
The study was conducted under WHO parameters.
“In rural areas, generally considered to be pollution free, indoor pollution from biomass fuel in kitchen is taking a heavy toll, specially on women and children,” said Lahiri
Such kitchen pollution also causes hypertension, anxiety, loss of memory, blurred vision, sleeping disorder.
The survey was conducted among 1,605 women in the age group 24-43 years in five districts of south Bengal. Of them, 1,095 women cooked with biomass fuels.
The findings of these women were compared with the findings on 509 women who used LPG as kitchen fuel.
“Our findings suggest physical and mental health of a very high percentage of rural women using biomass as kitchen fuel have been adversely affected due to incomplete combustion of biomass,” said Lahiri.
The study has found air pollution levels in households using biomass fuel is three-times higher than houses using LPG as fuel even during non-cooking hours.
The pollution leaves the biomass-using women five times more prone to COPD and four times more prone to hypertension than LPG users.
Nearly 20 per cent of women using biomass fuel suffer shortened menstrual cycle compared to just five per cent in case of LPG users.
More than one-fifth of biomass using women experience spontaneous abortion compared to just six percent among LPG users. More than double number of women using biomass gave birth to underweight baby compared to their LPG using neighbours, the study revealed.
“Most rural kitchens do not have proper ventilation. When biomass is burned the smoke contains particulate matters, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur oxides, formaldehyde and ploycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons including carcinogens,” said Biswajit Roy Chowdhury, secretary of NEWS.