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Biomass fuel More Harmful

 Women using biomass fuel to cook contribute more to the disease burden of India compared to cigarette smokers and high blood pressure patients, said Kalpana Balakrishnan, member of Steering committee on air pollution, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Household air pollution due to use of unprocessed biomass fuel like wood, dung and other agricultural residues ranked second among all risk factors contributing to disease burden in India, according to a recent Global Disease Burden (GBD) study led by Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Kalpana Balakrishnan who was a member of this study said people in India using biomass fuel to cook in poorly ventilated rooms were exposed to more smoke compared to cigarette smokers. Even though the per unit risk per person was comparatively low, this value multiplied with a large population using it (700 million) added heavily to the country’s disease burden, she added.

The study revealed that value of fine Particulate Matter (PM 2.5, an air toxic) suspended in air in rural houses in India (500 microgram per metrecube) was ten times higher compared to Chennai’s annual outdoor average (50-60 microgram per metrecube). The rural Indian values are also fifty fold high compared to the WHO guideline exposure value for PM and other air toxic materials. Kalpana from Sri Ramachandra University said that through recent assessments it was found out that household air pollution resulted in Ischemic heart diseases, cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer, stroke in addition to chronic respiratory disease in women and acute respiratory infection in young children in India. 

Before this study which recognises cooking smoke exposure as a leading cause of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), doctors were puzzled by the fact that women, who were not smokers, developed COPD, she added on the sidelines of SRU University day celebrations.

In India, about a million deaths were attributed to household pollution and 6,27,000 deaths were due to ambient air pollution in 2010, and the 2013 figures are similar with no significant differences.

Indeed the assessment concluded that household and ambient air pollution together account for a disease burden which is greater than the burden contributed by all the 65 other risk factors put together.

But evidence for some outcomes associated with this pollution like asthma, lower birth rate, neuro-developmental defects and cataracts are in the process of being synthesised and published. Kalpana told Express.

Kalpana said India was surely in a position to act on this risk factor and the steering committee had already submitted recommendations to endorse health associations to take history of patients with such exposure and counsel them and go for a cleaner fuel “which is the best possible way out”.