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[KATHMANDU] Nepalis who have never smoked are among those facing an increased risk of lung cancer due to common household air pollutants, says a new study.

Women and children are particularly vulnerable to long-term exposure to household air pollution, say researchers from the University of Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health, University of Utah School of Medicine and Nepal’s B.P. Koirala Memorial Cancer Hospital who were involved in the study.

Due to be published this month (May) in Environmental Research, the study investigated the association between exposure to household air pollutants created by burning biomass fuels — such as wood, charcoal, crop residue and dung — and lung cancer risk.

“Our results suggest that chronic exposure to [household air pollution] resulting from biomass combustion is associated with increased lung cancer risk, particularly among never-smokers in Nepal,” says lead author Greg A. Raspanti. “Household air pollution resulting from the use of these solid fuels is of particular concern, given the overall prevalence as well as the intensity of exposure and the range of potential adverse health outcomes.”

Amir Sapkota, co-author of the study and associate professor, University of Maryland, says household air pollution is responsible for more than four million deaths worldwide annually. He says the Nepal findings are in line with observations from previous studies in India and eastern Europe. “There are many ways to minimise exposure,” Sapkota says. “The best of course is to transition into cleaner fuels such as LPG, and electric stoves that are based on wind and solar energy.

“Nepal has a tremendous potential with wind energy. This is particularly important in the context of the most recent Paris agreement on climate change. Another alternative is to use improved cook stoves.”  
Kathmandu’s 3.5 million residents also face serious health risks due to ambient polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, according to a study published December in Science of the Total Environment. The study, found that the city had “one of the most serious air pollution problems in the world”.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons come from incomplete combustion of materials such as petrol, wood, garbage, oil and coal, which attach to particulate matter such as soot. Samples taken between April 2013 and March 2014 were analysed for concentrations of 15 priority particle-bound polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Concentrations of total suspended particles and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were found to be “extremely high” and comparable to levels in Asia’s mega-cities such as Beijing and New Delhi.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South Asia desk.