Researchers are discovering that male deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases originating from biomass smoke are on the rise. This information may have a drastic impact on subsequent interventions to reduce biomass pollution now that it is seen as an adverse health risk.
Many studies about the effects of air pollution have been undertaken, but surprisingly no studies have reported reductions in morbidity associated with interventions to reduce biomass smoke pollution.
Launceston (Tasmania, Australia) was subject to a series of 2001 interventions to reduce wood smoke pollution. These interventions ultimately led to a shift from wood heaters to electric ones. As a result, wood stove usage fell from 66% to 30% for all households, and the average particulate air pollution was reduced by 40%.
The paper published on January 8 on the British Medical Journal website assessed changes in mortality associated with a reduction in smoke from wood heaters. They compared the town of Launceston with the town on Hobart, which had no air quality interventions. They determined the reductions were statistically significant for males alone – meaning differences of 11.4% for all-cause mortality; 17.9% for cardiovascular and 22.8% for respiratory. Data taken from winter months (June-August in Australia) demonstrated even higher reductions of cardiovascular disease by 20% and respiratory disease by 28%.
The overall message the researchers wish to communicate – interventions to reduce ambient pollution from biomass smoke are worthwhile and will lead to significant public health gains.