By Jim Johnson
The end of May is always one of my favorite times of year. It includes Memorial Day, the official holiday to honor the service of our dedicated military personnel and military veterans, and my birthday.
If your neighborhood is anything like mine, the end of May also coincides with the time of year when the evening air fills with the unmistakable scent of backyard grilling. Barbeque season. Here in this country, that distinctive odor of smoke is associated with tasty food, relaxing, and good times spent with friends and family.
But for most of the world’s population, the smell of an open fire is something completely different. It’s not nostalgic or a welcome diversion from the norm, but a necessity.
Nearly three billion people worldwide rely on burning fuels such as wood, plant matter, coal, and animal waste. And because most of that occurs indoors, it’s a health hazard, too. The World Health Organization estimates that exposure to smoke from traditional cookstoves leads to 4.3 million premature deaths per year.
What’s more, it’s not just a local problem. The smoke from traditional cookstoves is a major source of black carbon, an air pollutant linked to a range of impacts associated with our changing climate, including increased temperatures, accelerated ice and snow melt, and changes in the pattern and intensity of precipitation.
And that brings me to another reason why the end of May this particular year is even a bit more special for me than usual: Yesterday, EPA announced almost $9 million in research grants awarded to six universities to help usher in a new generation of clean, efficient cookstoves.
Funded through our Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, the research will focus on measuring and communicating the benefits of adopting cleaner cooking, heating, and lighting practices. The impact of the work will improve air quality and protect the health of billions of people, as well as slow climate change—a benefit for everyone, and the global environment, too.
The universities and their research are:
- Colorado State University researchers will provide new cookstoves to rural areas in China, India, Kenya, and Honduras to explore how their adoption will impact and improve emissions, chemistry, and movement of indoor smoke; they will also assess health and climate impacts.
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers will investigate how local resources in rural communities in Alaska, Nepal, Mongolia, and China affect the acceptance of cleaner heating stoves, and take measurements to learn how their use impacts air quality and carbon emissions.
- University of Minnesota, Minneapolis researchers will measure changes in air quality and health outcomes from cleaner cooking and heating technologies in China, and model regional weather, air quality, exposure and human health impacts.
- University of California, Berkeley researchers will explore the relationship between household and village-scale pollution to understand the effectiveness of using cleaner-burning cookstoves.
- Yale University researchers will use socioeconomic analyses, emissions and pollution measurements, and global climate modeling to investigate the impacts of using next-generation cookstoves in India.
- University of Colorado, Boulder researchers will use small, inexpensive sensors to monitor indoor air pollution exposure in homes. They will also collect data through health assessments and outdoor air quality measurements in Ghana.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced the grants at a reception hosted by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. EPA is a founding member of this public-private partnership, which seeks to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and protect the environment by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions. Our collective goal: 100 million homes adopting clean cooking solutions by 2020. Achieving that will really be something to celebrate!
About the Author: Dr. James H. Johnson Jr. is the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, which runs the Agency’s STAR program as well as other grant, fellowship, and awards programs that support high quality research by many of our nation’s leading scientists and engineers.