BioScience Trends. 2012;6(5):219-228. (DOI: 10.5582/bst.2012.v6.5.219)

Biomass fuel exposure and respiratory diseases in India.

Prasad R, Singh A, Garg R, Giridhar BH


One half of the world's population relies on biomass fuel as the primary source of domestic energy. Biomass fuel exposure causes a high degree of morbidity and mortality in humans. This is especially true in the context of developing countries, which account for 99% of the world's biomass fuel use. Biomass fuel consists of fire wood, dung cakes, agricultural crop residues such as straw, grass, and shrubs, coal fuels and kerosene. Together, they supply 75% of the domestic energy in India. An estimated three-quarters of Indian households use biomass fuel as the primary means for domestic cooking. Ninety percent of rural households and 32% of urban households cook their meals on a biomass stove. There are wide variations between the rural and urban households regarding the specific type of biomass fuel used. Globally, almost 2 million deaths per year are attributable to solid fuel use, with more than 99% of these occurring in developing countries. Biomass fuel accounts for 5-6% of the national burden of disease. Burning biomass fuels emits toxic fumes into the air that consist of small solid particles, carbon monoxide, polyorganic and polyaromatic hydrocarbons, and formaldehyde. Exposure to biomass fuels has been found to be associated with many respiratory diseases such as acute lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, and asthma. Biomass fuel exposure is closely related to the burden of disease in India. Hopes are that future studies will examine the morbidity associated with biomass exposure and seek to prevent it. Concerted efforts to improve stove design and transition to high-efficiency low-emission fuels may reduce respiratory disease associated with biomass fuel exposure.

KEYWORDS: Biomass fuels, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), tuberculosis, cancer

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