The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is launching a 3 year international study to assess the impact of open-fire cooking on disease and air quality. Scientists hope to determine whether newer stoves employing modern technology can reduce disease and improve regional air quality.
The study will utilize an unprecedented collaboration of atmospheric scientists, statisticians, engineers and social scientists. These experts will analyze smoke data from traditional cooking methods utilized in homes, villages, and entire regions. Scientists will assess the overall impact of cooking methods on human health by using sensors with computer and statistical models.
Northern Ghana, with a history of air pollutants and meningitis outbreaks, will be the focus of the study. Health officials and policy makers will then use the data to determine the next course of action.
By identifying which cooking methods and tools present the greatest risk, changes can be implemented and can reduce the visible air pollution in Ghana’s skies. Understanding the connection between open fire cooking and air pollution is critical since approximately 3 billion people worldwide cook over fire.
Technology will be critical in gathering data, with experts using smartphone applications that replace traditional air quality sensors and experts using advanced weather, air quality and climate models. Scientists will also interview the locals to determine their level of understanding the connection between open-fire cooking and disease and willingness to adopt newer, cleaner cooking methods.
Third world countries produce considerable carbon monoxide, particulates, and smog from open-fire cooking. This pollution can mix into the global atmosphere, ultimately affecting weather patterns and contributing to climate change. Locals are often unaware that headaches, nausea, and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases can be directly related to their cooking methods, let alone the global toll it takes.
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As an experienced griller, trekker, camper, and lover of the bonfire, I never thought to consider the implications of cooking over a wood fire. Doing some volunteer work in northern Perú, I would say about 90% of the cooking is done over an open fire here, and I wonder what effect it has on the food and the health of the diners.