`The prob­lem lies not just in stoves but in solid fu­els them­selves'

Down to Earth - - HEALTH -

Kalpana Balakr­ish­nan, di­rec­tor, WHO Col­lab­o­rat­ing Cen­ter for Oc­cu­pa­tional and En­vi­ron­men­tal Health, Sri Ra­machan­dra Univer­sity, Chen­nai, who was part of the study, talks about the re­search and the way ahead

What are the WHO-pre­scribed emis­sion guide­lines for cook stoves based on solid fuel? The guide­line value for ex­po­sure to fine par­tic­u­late mat­ter (PM2.5) is 10 mi­cro­gram/ m3 (an­nual mean). WHO also pro­vides three in­terim tar­gets (such as 35 fol­lowed by 25 and 15 mi­cro­gram/m3 (an­nual mean) for PM2.5) to grad­u­ally re­duce health risks from a high level of pol­lu­tion and as­sess progress to­wards achiev­ing the guide­line val­ues. Achiev­ing even the in­terim stan­dards ap­pears far­fetched for now.

What does your study re­veal? Of the six com­mer­cially avail­able stoves we tested, none came close to meet­ing the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion

( WHO) air qual­ity guide­line val- ues. In fact, none of them con­sis­tently achieved even the in­terim stan­dards. We would like ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers in the field, to re­alise that the fo­cus in de­sign­ing th­ese stoves should not be limited to im­prov­ing ef­fi­ciency, but be ex­tended to mak­ing them clean enough to at­tain the health bench­mark for air qual­ity over a pe­riod of long-term us­age. The study has also high­lighted the key role of house­hold-level fac­tors. For in­stance, a sin­gle pot stove is of­ten not enough for a house­hold's ba­sic meal re­quire­ments. This forces peo­ple to use the old stoves in ad­di­tion to newer ones and air qual­ity inside the house does not im­prove. Qual­ity of fuel is another crit­i­cal mat­ter. Some­times the fuel may not be well-chopped, may be wet or just be of the wrong type - all lead­ing to greater in­ef­fi­ciency in burn­ing. Also, ex­po­sures in ex­cess of guide­line val­ues may be ex­pe­ri­enced even in clean fuel house­holds lo­cated in com­mu­ni­ties us­ing solid fu­els.

Which stove was found to be the best? The per cent re­duc­tion in mean con­cen­tra­tion of PM 2.5 over a 24-hour pe­riod ranged from 8.5 to 62.5 per cent for dif­fer­ent stoves. Philips-HD 4012 Forced Draft stove was the only one to show sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion (at 62.5 per cent). The Oorja Forced Draft gasi­fier stove pro­duced 20 per cent re­duc­tions but both were far from WHO air qual­ity guide­lines and re­ported to be cum­ber­some to use.

Are tech­ni­cal bot­tle­necks stalling us from build­ing stoves that achieve WHO-pre­scribed emis­sion lev­els? The prob­lem lies not just in the stoves but also in solid fu­els them­selves, that burn very in­ef­fi­ciently. Our tech­no­log­i­cal knowhow does not al­low us to build a stove in the ` 2,000-`3,000 bracket that burns fuel ef­fi­ciently enough to match WHO stan­dards. In try­ing for greater ef­fi­ciency, the costs of­ten shoot up. Till a break­through in clean tech­nol­ogy oc­curs, the need of the hour is to move to cleaner fu­els like LPG and elec­tric­ity.

How can the gov­ern­ment bet­ter im­ple­ment schemes like the Na­tional Biomass Cook­stove Ini­tia­tive (NBCI)? The NBCI was con­sti­tuted to pro­vide tech­nolo­gies that are com­pa­ra­ble to LPG or other clean fu­els. But we have found that cook stoves cur­rently ap­proved based on im­prove­ments in ef­fi­ciency, can­not help at­tain WHO stan­dards of air qual­ity. Although In­dia has been a pi­o­neer in look­ing at more en­ergy-ef­fi­cient stoves, the as­pect of health ben­e­fits of a cleaner fuel and stove have not been cen­tral in th­ese dis­cus­sions. There is now an in­creas­ing mo­men­tum to start eval­u­at­ing stoves based on their health im­pact. This will change the course of things.

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