Indoor air quality for poor families: new evidence from Bangladesh.Indoor Air. 2006 Dec; 16(6):426-44.IA
Poor households in Bangladesh depend heavily on wood, dung and other biomass fuels for cooking. This paper provides a detailed analysis of the implications for indoor air pollution (IAP), drawing on new 24-h monitoring data for respirable airborne particulates (PM10). A stratified sample of 236 households was selected in Dhaka and Narayanganj, with a particular focus on fuel use, cooking locations, structural materials, ventilation practices, and other potential determinants of exposure to IAP. At each household, PM10 concentrations in the kitchen and living room were monitored for a 24-h period during December, 2003-February, 2004. Concentrations of 300 microg/m3 or greater are common in our sample, implying widespread exposure to a serious health hazard. A regression analysis for these 236 households was then conducted to explore the relationships between PM10 concentrations, fuel choices and a large set of variables that describe household cooking and ventilation practices, structure characteristics and building materials. As expected, our econometric results indicate that fuel choice significantly affects indoor pollution levels: natural gas and kerosene are significantly cleaner than biomass fuels. However, household-specific factors apparently matter more than fuel choice in determining PM10 concentrations. In some biomass-burning households, concentrations are scarcely higher than in households that use natural gas. Our results suggest that cross-household variation is strongly affected by structural arrangements: cooking locations, construction materials, and ventilation practices. A large variation in PM10 was also found during the 24-h cycle within households. For example, within the 'dirtiest' firewood-using household in our sample, readings over the 24-h cycle vary from 68 to 4864 microg/m3. Such variation occurs because houses can recycle air very quickly in Bangladesh. After the midday meal, when ventilation is common, air quality in many houses goes from very dirty to reasonably clean within an hour. Rapid change also occurs within households: diffusion of pollution from kitchens to living areas is nearly instantaneous in many cases, regardless of internal space configuration, and living-area concentrations are almost always in the same range as kitchen concentrations. By implication, exposure to dangerous indoor pollution levels is not confined to cooking areas. To assess the broader implications for poor Bangladeshi households, we extrapolate our regression results to representative 600 household samples from rural, peri-urban and urban areas in six regions: Rangpur in the north-west, Sylhet in the north-east, Rajshahi and Jessore in the west, Faridpur in the center, and Cox's Bazar in the south-east. Our results indicate great geographic variation, even for households in the same per capita income group. This variation reflects local differences in fuel use and, more significantly, construction practices that affect ventilation. For households with per capita income <US Dollars 1.00/day, rural PM10 concentrations vary from 410 microg/m3 in Cox's Bazar to 202 microg/m3 in Faridpur. In urban areas, concentrations for such households differ by almost 100 microg/m3 between the highest areas, Jessore and Rajshahi, and the lowest, Sylhet. Practical Implications Our analysis suggests that poor families may not have to wait for clean fuels or clean stoves to enjoy significantly cleaner air. Within our sample household population, some arrangements are already producing relatively clean conditions, even when 'dirty' biomass fuels are used, such as simple changes in ventilation characteristics of housing (construction materials, space configurations, cooking locations and placement of doors and windows) and ventilation behavior (keeping doors and windows open after cooking). As these arrangements are already within the means of poor families, the scope for cost-effective improvements may be larger than is commonly believed.