Household Air Pollution from Solid Cookfuels and Health

Authors: Kirk R. Smith, Ajay Pillarisetti


Like contamination by human waste, smoke from cookfires using mainly wood fuel has existed since the earliest human times. Indeed, learning to control fire is considered the defining moment between the pre-human and human condition (Wrangham 2009). With the agricultural revolution some 10,000 years ago, agricultural residues, including animal dung, were brought to the hearth as well. Some 1,000 years ago, coal became used in areas where it was easily mined—for example, the British Isles and China (Smil 1994). These three—wood, agricultural residues, and coal—constitute the solid cookfuels used by about 40 percent of humanity today (Bonjour and others 2013). Typically burned in simple cookstoves, they produce smoke that is now understood to cause a large burden of disease (Smith/Bruce and others 2014).