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How safe is the air in your home?

Update Date: Apr 02, 2013 12:29 PM EDT

Biomass fuels from wood, charcoal, dung, kerosene, coal and even crop residues all contribute to the effects of household air pollution (HAP). The household pollutants are responsible for four million deaths a year and also associated with asthma, tuberculosis and low birth weight.

Widespread concerns about the effects of HAP have led researchers across the globe to make an urgent demand for the development of biomarkers for both exposure and health effects of these products. Current exposure measurements are difficult to assess when based on large population studies. The techniques are also high in cost and technically challenging.

"The grand challenge to the research community is to produce simple and validated tests that better identify populations that are at risk from HAP, and individual responses to exposure reduction strategies," stated Dr. William J. Martin, PhD and Associate Director for Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the National Institute of Health (NIH).  

Current HAP assessment tools consist of the direct quantitative measurement of household products, as well as questionnaires categorizing HAP exposure. While new devices are currently being field tested and scaled for larger commercial use, measurements still prove difficult to differentiate HAP from other pollutants such as tobacco smoke and outdoor pollutants.

Families in lower and middle income countries are more affected by HAP based on cooking, heating and lighting methods in their homes. Those exposed to HAP are also more likely to suffer from childhood respiratory infection, chronic lung disease and cardiovascular disease.

One billion citizens in China rely on energy from coal. In 2010, 40 percent of the population reportedly died prematurely due to the contributing factor of air pollution according to the 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study. India also generates 55 percent of its electrical power through coal and suffered 620,000 premature deaths based on pollution in 2010. Meanwhile coal is still becoming an attractive alternative to natural gas due to Europe's current economic climate.

Researchers findings of HAP are addressed in the article "Household air pollution: a call for studies into biomarkers of exposure and predictors of respiratory disease," which was published by the American Journal of Physiology-Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology.  

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