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Clean Cookstoves Research: An Opportunity to Benefit Billions

By Bryan Bloomer, Ph.D.

I have long appreciated the ability to cook and heat my home with minimum risk of exposure to toxic indoor air pollution. But I am also painfully aware that more than 3 billion people around the world rely on inefficient, unsustainable and dangerous cookstove technologies for their everyday cooking, heating and lighting needs.

Display of clean cookstoves.

EPA’s Bryan Bloomer examines clean-burning prototypes at the Cookstoves Future Summit in New York City.

That is why I am so pleased to join EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and other prominent leaders this week at the first ever ministerial- and CEO-level Cookstoves Future Summit, “Fueling Markets, Catalyzing Action, Changing Lives,” in New York City.

Traditional cookstoves typically burn biomass fuels such as wood, dung, crop residues, charcoal or the fossil fuel, coal. This causes a wide range of negative health effects to the people, primarily women and children, exposed to the smoke they emit. And there’s more. The use of traditional cookstove technologies also depletes natural resources, contributes to deforestation, and releases harmful pollutants into the atmosphere that contribute to climate change at regional and global scales.

This is why clean cookstoves research is a top EPA priority. Our goal is to transform the sustainability and health impacts of the energy infrastructure in ways that will not only improve the health of billions, most of them disadvantaged women and children, but improve the global environment as well.

We conduct and support cooperative research to identify gaps and deliver practical solutions from a wide array of stakeholders. The Agency is leading an international clean cookstove research effort, helping to support the development of international cookstove standards, conducting trusted independent research on the energy efficiency and emissions of cookstoves, and improving our understanding of the negative health impacts from exposure to cookstove smoke.

In March 2012, EPA announced the funding of six universities to address residential burning and its effects on human health worldwide. This group of researchers is developing innovative technologies to quantify the impacts of cookstove emissions on climate and air quality.

Moving forward, we and our many partners in this global effort will focus on translating these results into the field, primarily bringing innovative, consumer-driven and life-saving technologies to individuals worldwide.

Turning research results into welcomed solutions is the topic of this week’s Cookstoves Future Summit. The summit presents a unique opportunity to further develop a thriving and sustainable clean cookstove market. Such a market will mean substantial progress toward preventing the more than 4 million estimated indoor air pollution related deaths due to traditional cookstoves and fuels.

The clean cookstoves challenge encompasses a number of health, social and environmental issues. Such a pressing and compelling problem presents us with a significant opportunity to improve livelihoods, empower women and protect the environment for generations to come.

About the Author: Dr. Bryan Bloomer is the director of the Applied Science Division at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. He works with grant managers that support scientists and engineers through the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants program, to improve EPA’s scientific basis for decision on air, climate, water and energy issues.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Braving the Weather to Promote Green Infrastructure in Philadelphia

CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley and EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe in snow storm in Philadelphia following STAR grant announcement

CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley and EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe in snow storm in Philadelphia following STAR grant announcement

 

Yesterday, I was up in Philadelphia joined by CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley and Mayor Nutter to announce nearly $5 million in EPA grants made possible through the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program. These investments are going to five universities, and aim to fill gaps in research evaluating the costs and benefits of certain green infrastructure practices.

The projects to be invested in, led by Temple University, Villanova University, Swarthmore College, University of Pennsylvania and University of New Hampshire, will explore the financial and social costs and benefits associated with green infrastructure as a stormwater and wet weather pollution management tool.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Science Wednesday: Explaining Children’s Health Research

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

With the new school year, I’ve gotten to meet a bunch of my kids’ new classmates. And now that my kids are a bit older, I am getting better at answering when their new friends ask me what I do.

The first time a kid asked me that I blew it—big time. I had gotten off work early and decided to swing by nursery school to surprise my daughter. It was a warm, fall afternoon, and her class of four-year-olds was the outside at playground. “Daddy!” my daughter squealed and sprinted over to meet me at the fence, followed closely by a posse of half a dozen or so little people.

“My daddy works at the zoo,” she announced. It was true. Before coming to EPA I worked as an exhibit writer at the National Zoo. “Wow, that’s cool!” a little girl yelled. “What am-inals do you feed,” demanded a boy, a full head taller than the other kids. I felt a flash of pride. “I’m not a zookeeper; I write the words for the exhibits,” I exclaimed.

Wrong answer. The kids stared up at me. Blinking. Expressionless. My daughter looked down and made a circle in the dirt with her the tip of her shoe. Then, the tall boy declared: “He doesn’t work at the zoo!” And just like that, the gaggle of kids turned and sprinted back to the playground.

“You should have just told them you feed the pandas,” the teacher said, snickering.

image of the author standing next to a panda in a cageWhile a class of four-year-olds would be even less impressed with my current job (EPA science writer), I am happy to work for a place where children’s health has always been a major priority. That focus has resulted in some important findings. Last year, for example, the Agency published A Decade of Children’s Health Research, a research summary report highlighting findings from ten years, and some $127 million worth of investments in STAR grants on children’s environmental health.

The report is just one of the many EPA science initiatives on developing a better understanding of children’s environmental health. All that focused research gives me plenty to write about, and lots to talk about as we celebrate Children’s Health Month here at EPA. But just the same, next time a group of four-year-old nursery school kids asks me about my job, I think I’ll just tell them I feed the pandas.

About the Author: Before joing EPA’s Office of Research and Development as a science writer, Aaron Ferster spent ten years as an exhibit writer and developer at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. He is the editor for Science Wednesday.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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