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Farmers sickened by kitchen smoke
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-10-22 07:49

Kitchen smoke has become a major source of indoor pollution in rural areas and threatens to harm China's 900 million farmers, warn domestic experts.

Song Guangsheng, director of the China Indoor Environment Test Centre, said many rural households in China still burn stalks, wood and low-quality coal with high sulfur content as fuel daily.

"Unscientifically-designed ooking utensils used by farmers often cause incomplete combustion of these fuels, which can generate dense smoke and heavily pollute the indoor air if there is no exhaust system," Song said.

The smoke contains many toxic gases, including nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and some cancer-causing pollutants.

An official with the State Environmental Protection Admi-nistration (SEPA) pointed out kitchen smoke is made up of tiny particles that can enter the blood and lungs and cause pulmonary and respiratory diseases.

"At dusk or on foggy days, temperatures near the ground are usually lower than those of upper air in rural areas, which will worsen the pollution as it hinders the diffusion of kitchen smoke," the official said.

The World Health Organization and the United Nations Development Programme noted that thick acrid smoke from stoves and fires inside homes is associated with approximately 1.6 million deaths per year in developing countries.

Song cited a 1995 report by the World Bank, which said that more than 100,000 people in China die from indoor air pollution each year. "A considerable proportion of them are rural residents," Song said.

Experts also point out that China's environmental protection efforts in rural areas are now mainly targeting pollution by farm pes-ticides and fertilizers, animal waste, water pollution and sewage discharge by township businesses. But little emphasis has been put on the kitchen smoke.

Song suggested local departments help rural residents improve their stoves and build exhaust systems to ensure sound indoor ventilation.

He also considered it important to develop clean and renewable energy sources, such as marsh gas, solar energy, wind,mini-hydropower and other environment-friendly energies.

Since 2000, the Chinese Govern-ment has began a trial project to help rural residents build marsh gas pits and rebuild toilets, sties and stoves.

In 2003 and 2004, the Ministry of Finance allocated 1 billion yuan (US$145 million) per year to build household-use methane-generating pits.

According to an ambitious plan for the use of methane as fuel, by the end of 2004, more than 20 million such pits will be built in China's rural areas.

The figure is expected to reach 50 million by 2010. By then, 200 million rural residents will benefit from methane.

Besides methane, research on solar energy, wind, and mini hydropower energy also enjoyed rapid development.

"The use of renewable energy has altered century-old cooking habits of millions of Chinese farmers, improved the rural sanitary environment and farmers' living standards," said Yan Cheng, deputy director of the rural renewable energy section under the Ministry of Agriculture.

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