Farming and cooking fires cause pollution that kills.

Air pollution kills more than 3 million people a year, by lung cancer and other diseases. It’s particularly bad in China and India. But who would have thought that the worst contributors to air pollution aren’t cars, but home cooking fires used in Asia?

cooking fireThese household fires, which also heat homes, are the leading cause of air-pollution death in Asia, as researchers reported on September 17th in Nature. But in other parts of the world, like northeastern United State, Russia and Europe, fumes from agriculture and livestock and the worst killer. These were all higher than the effects of vehicle exhaust and power plants.

This new understanding of the causes of pollution in China will influence how it’s addressed there. On many days in China traffic is regulated to prevent too much pollution – but it might not need to be, according to Johannes Lelieveld, an atmospheric chemist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany.  Lelieveld and his colleagues used population health data and satellite observations of particles in the atmosphere to do a large-scale computer simulation. They viewed the particles moving around the atmosphere, and then they tried to guess where they were coming from, based on seven sources, which included agriculture, forest fires, and power plants.

Once they had built the computer simulation, they just removed one of each of the sources at a time, until they found which were the biggest causes. They found that home cooking fires cause 1 million deaths every years, and agriculture causes 600,000.

from Science News

Photo: Smithsonian