cookstove research

When Cooking Can Harm: Cookstove Research and Human Health

By Dina Abdulhadi

Two researchers examine a clean-burning cookstove design in a lab.

EPA cookstove research

While I don’t Instagram every meal, cooking is still an important part of my life. It’s a social anchor that ties me to my family and friends. I also see the act of cooking as a major part of being healthy, since it allows me to control what goes into my food.

So when I learned that the process of cooking is one of the greatest health threats that people face globally, I felt disoriented. Cooking is an everyday task that most in the U.S. can accomplish by turning a dial on a stove. Yet three billion people throughout the world use biomass or coal-fed cookstoves to cook their meals and heat their homes, and the smoke from these fires often causes respiratory and heart disease. In fact, household air pollution is the fourth highest risk factor for disease worldwide for all genders and the second highest risk factor for women[1]. Cookstove emissions also contribute to climate change.

Recently, I attended a scientific meeting to learn about cookstove studies by researchers who received one of six grants from EPA to research cleaner technologies and fuels for cooking, lighting and heating in homes that have limited or no access to electricity or gas lines. This research into cleaner cooking options will help improve air quality and protect the health of people throughout the world, including native peoples in Alaska and others in rural areas of the U.S. who use cookstoves to make their meals.

A presentation by Dr. Tami Bond, one of the grantees and a professor at the University of Illinois, particularly stood out for me. Bond studies the climate and air quality effects of fuel combustion. She receives assistance from trained citizen scientists in the communities who help collect and assess emissions from cookstoves in their homes.

The research by Bond and other grant recipients has given me an appreciation for how science can help to provide solutions to environmental health risks, including those from simply cooking a family meal. I plan to learn more by visiting the cookstove research lab in Research Triangle Park, N.C. There, researchers are testing a wide variety of cookstoves from all over the world to measure their energy efficiency and how much they pollute. You too can get an inside look at the research by watching this recent video by Voice of America on EPA’s cookstove testing.

Interested in seeing other research presented at the meeting? Click here for a list of presentations.

About the Author: Dina Abdulhadi is a student contractor working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

[1] A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990–2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010

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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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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Supporting Innovation for Cleaner Burning Cookstoves and Cleaner Air

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.

Cookstove researcher at work

EPA is a leader in conducting and supporting clean cookstove research.

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.




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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Researchers Work to Protect Winter from a Changing Climate

By Katie Lubinsky 

EPA cookstove research

EPA cookstove research

I am not a winter person. In fact, I would prefer 80-degree weather all the time. However, as much as I complain and begrudgingly deal with cold weather, I understand its importance for ecosystems and the climate (and that I also cannot escape it unless I travel between hemispheres).

Many are asking whether we’ll lose some of our winter in the coming years.  Despite cold periods, researchers report that ‘warmer than usual’ days are outnumbering ‘colder than usual’ ones.  One pollutant that is contributing to rising temperatures is black carbon, an air pollutant that may not be as well known to the public as carbon dioxide.

Often referred to as soot, black carbon is made up of tiny, black-colored particles that are part of particulate matter (PM). The particles are emitted  from fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass, and are the strongest light-absorbing component of PM. Black carbon particles can absorb a million times more energy than carbon dioxide while up in the atmosphere.

These particles have an enormous affect on climate change.  By directly absorbing light and heat from the sun and earth, black carbon can warm the atmosphere, and, in turn, directly raise temperatures. What’s more, the pollutant can also reduce the ability for snow and ice to reflect light, primarily at the Poles and Himalayas (the albedo effect); thus, causing the snow and ice to warm and essentially melt faster.

EPA researchers and grantees are studying the amount of black carbon being emitted from primary sources such as diesel engines as well as ways to reduce the impact of the pollutant on climate change. A recent EPA-funded report by the Health Effects Institute shows that the Agency’s emissions standards for new diesel engines reduce emissions, including black carbon.

Cookstoves, another high-emitting source of black carbon, are used in many developing countries for cooking food and heating. This results in harmful health effects from poor indoor air quality, particularly for women and children who spend significant time in smoky homes. EPA is testing new and improved cookstoves that reduce emissions and use less polluting fuels and alternative energy, like solar power.­

Progress to reduce black carbon has been made. One study indicates that there has been a 32 percent reduction in black carbon emissions from U.S. mobile sources between 1990 and 2005, according to the Report to Congress on Black Carbon (download at:

EPA’s black carbon research is making important contributions to international efforts to reduce this air pollutant.  Researchers are optimistic that by reducing black carbon, significant progress can be made in battling climate change.

This is good news for those who love winter, snow and outdoor winter sports like snowboarding and skiing. Though I will continue to brace myself before venturing outside in the cold months, I also appreciate the changing seasons and the research that is being conducted to reduce black carbon’s threat to our climate.

About the AuthorKatie Lubinsky is a student contractor working with EPA’s Office of Research and Development in communications and wishes everyday was like summer.

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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Something to Be Thankful For

By Kathleen Stewart

Kathleen Stewart examines a stove.

Kathleen Stewart examines a stove.

On Thanksgiving, stuffed with turkey and pie, I can summon just enough creativity to be thankful for the usual stuff—a roof over my head, food on the table, and my family’s health and happiness. I don’t tend to remember to be thankful for the modern conveniences that make all of the above possible.

This year, I am officially giving thanks for my natural gas heater. Whenever a slip of chill creeps into my drafty old house, warm nights are just a flip of a switch away. With heat so instantaneously available, it’s easy to forget that 3 billion people worldwide rely on wood, dung, charcoal, coal, and biomass (fuel derived from organic matter, usually plants) to cook for their families and warm their homes.

Even on the Navajo Nation, where high voltage transmission lines crisscross the land to bring electricity to Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles, approximately 60% of families use coal, coke, or wood to heat their homes. About 30% of families use coal as their primary heating fuel.

In 2010, researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and Dine College (the Navajo Nation’s institute of higher education) surveyed 137 homes in the Navajo town of Shiprock, NM. In this town, with average December/January lows of 19 degrees Fahrenheit, the researchers found that 77% of the homes used stoves primarily for heating, and 25% of families burned coal for heat in stoves that were not specifically designed for coal. They also found that 26% of the stoves were ten or more years old.

Navajo town of Shiprock, NM

Navajo town of Shiprock, NM

The researchers noted that many of the stoves were improperly vented, with visible cracks in the chimneys, or no chimney at all.

The indoor smoke poses serious health risks, particularly for children and the elderly, but there is no easy solution. There are no EPA certified coal stoves, and most newer coal stoves are designed to burn cleaner-burning anthracite coal, not the types (bituminous and subbituminous) available—cheap or free—on the Navajo Nation. With a median household income of $20,000 and limited existing infrastructure, gas and electricity are generally too costly.

That’s why we and our EPA colleagues have teamed up with partners at Dine College to identify and research heating options that will reduce exposure to coal smoke from home heating on the Navajo Nation. The end result will help provide stakeholders with an understanding of the best alternatives to reduce health and environmental impacts from home heating—alternatives that are technically, economically, and culturally feasible.

Last night I fell asleep curled around my home’s heater vent after the kids went to bed. I crave being warm like a snail craves its shell. In fact, I am actually allergic to being cold. Look that allergy up and then be thankful for two new things this Thanksgiving.

Learn more about EPA research and programs on how to heat your home while minimizing the health impacts:


About the Author: Environmental scientist Kathleen Stewart helps concerned communities understand risks from indoor and outdoor air pollution. For this project, she is working with Agency research scientist Paul Solomon, who has extensive experience developing ways to measure particulate matter in the air, and to better understand the relationships between air pollution sources and exposure risks.



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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EPA Helps Lead the Way in Cleaning Up Stoves

By Katie Lubinsky

Cookstoves for testingIt kills approximately 1.9  million people each year, is the fourth worst overall environmental health risk in developing countries, and contributes to chronic illnesses including pneumonia, lung cancer and  cardiovascular disease. The source of such harmful health effects? Smoke from open fires and cookstoves used by people in developing countries.

EPA, as part of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, is helping to lead the way in testing cookstove technologies. Recently, I spoke with EPA’s Jim Jetter, the lead author on the most extensive, independent study of air pollutant emissions and energy efficiency on cookstoves done to date. Results of the study were published in the October issue of Environmental Science and Technology.

EPA researcher testing a cookstove.

I discovered that Jim’s research involved the testing of 22 cookstoves using a wide variety of fuels, such as biomass and wood products. His research team measured emissions of air pollutants including carbon monoxide and particles known to cause health effects. Researchers also tested the stoves for energy efficiency.

One question that popped in my head was, “Do cookstove emissions from other countries affect the United States?”  And it seems there is strong evidence from other studies that parts of the U.S. are affected by air pollution from Asia.  Cookstove emissions largely contribute to the formation of ‘brown clouds,’ over countries like Asia. These brown clouds can travel between continents and potentially cause health effects … but that’s not all.

Cookstove fuels release greenhouse gases and black carbon when burned, which contributes to climate change. In fact, about 20 percent of black carbon emissions worldwide come from cookstoves.

While research continues, EPA reaches out with a challenge to college students to design a better, more efficiently designed cookstove:

Our “People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3)” sustainable design competition has a category specifically addressing clean energy and cookstoves. Submit your ideas, and you could be awarded a grant of up to $15,000 to support concept development.  But hurry!  The deadline for applicants in the P3 competition is Dec. 11th. Get the details for how to apply for a P3 grant here:

To read more about the recently-released study on clean cookstove, click here.

About the author: Katie Lubinsky is a student contractor working with EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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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