If you were to ask the average person to name the most deadly international public health issues, few would suggest indoor air pollution. But according to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is the fourth leading health risk in poor developing countries. Half the people on the planet, roughly 3 billion people worldwide, burn traditional fuels like wood, coal and dung indoors for cooking and heating, creating elevated levels of indoor smoke. The WHO estimates that 1.6 million people each year die prematurely from breathing elevated levels of indoor air pollution, with women and children suffering the most. Brenda Doroski and John Mitchell of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have spearheaded an international effort to combat this problem, and despite a limited budget, they have already made a major difference, reducing health risks for more than 300,000 people in eight countries
Doroski and Mitchell’s project, the International Partnership for Clean Indoor Air (PCIA), began in 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Over the past few decades, a number of governments and non-governmental organizations have worked to address this issue, but most of their efforts have been in isolation from one another as each organization focused on particular countries or regions of the world. Through the PCIA, Mitchell and Doroski are leveraging the early groundwork laid by a disparate array of organizations to create synergy and dramatically extend the results being achieved to tackle this worldwide problem. The Partnership uses a holistic approach that focuses on four priority strategies that are critical to developing sustainable interventions: overcoming social/behavioral barriers, fostering local market development, utilizing effective technology design, and monitoring indoor air pollution.
One central element of the initiative has been to fund pilot projects across the globe that make a difference in three ways: 1) educating people about the risks of indoor smoke; 2) leading the development of effective and affordable “clean stoves” and facilitating the infrastructure and technology sharing that will allow local companies to produce clean stoves; and 3) leading programs to self-sustainability and economic development in their community.
More specifically, the Partnership promotes micro financing to establish local businesses that will make and sell stoves that are environmentally safe, easy to produce and use local materials. Through partner organizations and local influential individuals, the PCIA works to educate citizens on the risks of indoor air pollution. It conducts scientific testing to better understand the risks associated with certain types of stoves and publishes guidance on how to build clean stoves.
When the PCIA was launched in 2002, it had only seven partners and a $1.5 million budget. With the leadership of Doroski and Mitchell, the program has grown to include more than 125 partners around the globe. It has conducted pilot programs in areas as diverse as Africa, Latin America, China and India. Its impact has been undeniably significant.
Through the ten pilot projects managed by Doroski and Mitchell alone, more than 1.5 million households have been educated about the health impacts of indoor air pollution from household energy use and ways to mitigate health risks; 640,000 people have demonstrated increased knowledge of indoor air pollution and mitigation solutions; 700 new small businesses are producing and marketing improved household energy technologies; 76,000 homes and other facilities such as schools have adopted improved cooking and/or heating practices; and exposure to indoor smoke from household energy use was reduced by more than 50 percent for 321,000 people.
In addition to the pilot projects, Doroski and Mitchell have convened global expert groups to increase knowledge in the field. Through six workshops, they have disseminated key information about stove design and indoor air pollution monitoring guidance to leaders in more than 60 countries. They have held separate workshops on commercializing stove businesses.
But the power of the PCIA strategy that Mitchell and Doroski are spearheading lies also in the coordinated aggregate impact being made by all the partners in the initiative. At the recent 3rd International PCIA Forum in Bangalore, India, attended by 42 of the 125 partner organizations, 34 of those programs reported that since the Partnership launch, they have disseminated 1.4 million clean and efficient stoves in homes and schools and improved the indoor air quality of 7.4 million people.
For now, most Americans are unaware of the danger of indoor air pollution as a global health issue because it is not a major domestic problem. In the future, let us hope that people around the world will know little of this problem because global efforts, like the International PCIA, come together to dramatically reduced the risks.