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Symposium on Indoor Air Quality in Developing Countries: Full Meeting Report


Nearly half the world’s population depends on solid fuels to meet their basic household energy needs. Indoor burning of solid fuels for cooking and heating generates hazardous air pollutants, including particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and numerous other toxic pollutants. The resulting indoor air pollution (IAP) levels are often 20 to 100 times greater than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) air quality guidelines, and exposure to IAP in developing countries accounts for approximately 4% of the global burden of disease, a burden which is shouldered disproportionately by women and children. Indeed, the WHO estimates that 2 million people die prematurely each year from exposure to indoor smoke from burning solid fuels. Unfortunately, unless swift and effective action is taken, the health risks associated with IAP are projected to rise as the number of people using these fuels increases.

The objectives of this report are to:
1) Provide an overview of and historical context for research on IAP in developing countries; 2) Summarize the events of and framework for discussions at a symposium on indoor air quality and cookstoves in developing countries held during the Indoor Air 2011 conference, which was funded by the National Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate Education Research and Traineeship (IGERT) program; and 3) Communicate the research and implementation needs identified at this symposium.

This report begins by introducing the topic of IAP in developing countries, particularly as motivation for this symposium. This report then provides an overview of previous research on IAP in developing countries, which is divided among five general categories: modeling, health outcomes, exposure measurements, combined health outcomes with exposure measurements, and cookstove testing. Although not an exhaustive review, several representative studies are highlighted to represent each category. Next, this report provides a summary of cookstove implementation efforts by regional, national, and international agencies and organizations before reflecting on knowledge gaps, limitations, and research needs cited in the literature by experts in the field. Then, the report describes the development of the symposium and its major components, including technical research presentations, invited speaker presentations, a student panel discussion, and focused group discussions between experts and students. Finally, conclusions and recommendations for future research in the field resulting from the symposium are presented.

The major outcome of the symposium described herein was a set of recommendations to guide the manner in which research is carried out regarding IAP in developing countries, in contrast to a list of research priorities, which has been revisited several times in recent years by recognized leaders in the field. Several compelling recommendations include the following:
1) The presence of new researchers in the field of IAP in developing countries should be encouraged and sustained; 2) The role of researchers in relationship to large-scale dissemination of cookstoves and related cookstove performance, exposure, and health outcomes should be identified and clarified; and 3) New, interdisciplinary approaches to research that emphasize collaboration between many relevant fields should be pursued and encouraged.