Household pollution: unregulated use of firewood in Brazilian homes will bring consequences, researcher warns

Publicação: 9 de August de 2019

In Brazil, 14 million families used firewood or charcoal for cooking in 2018. The number represents almost 20% of households, i.e., one in five

For Professor Adriana Gioda, replacing firewood and other solid fuels with cleaner fuels should be the government’s goal to minimize health costs

The people of the countryside say that beans prepared with firewood tastes better, but despite the warm atmosphere the crackle gives to the kitchen, the uncontrolled increase of its use in Brazilian houses will have negative consequences for both health and the environment. This is what warns the study developed by the Professor of the Department of Chemistry of the Technical Scientific Center of the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (CTC/PUC–Rio), Dr. Adriana Gioda

In the article entitled “Exposure to the use of firewood for cooking in Brazil and its relation to the health problems of the population” , the professor emphasizes that air pollution in indoor environments is made worse by burning wood in rustic stoves and poorly ventilated environments. Exposure to pollutants emitted by this type of fuel results in increased morbidity and mortality.

Despite the health hazards, the use of firewood remains in the country today, especially in the Northeast and rural regions. A survey by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), released in May this year, with data from 2018 from the National Continuous Household Sample Survey (PNAD Contínua), revealed that 14 million Brazilian families used firewood or charcoal for cooking in the past year. The number represents almost 20% of households, i.e., one in five.

Pará (57,5%) is the state with the highest percentage of households that still uses firewood or coal as fuel to cook. In 2016, the rate was 44,9%. Next comes Maranhão (52.2%), Piaui (41.5%), Rio Grande do Sul (34.8), Tocantins (29.9%), Mato Grosso (29.3%). The lowest percentage was registered in Rio de Janeiro (1,8%). Considering absolute numbers, Minas Gerais led the use of charcoal and firewood in 2018 (1.7 million families made use of these fuels for cooking). Rio Grande do Sul and Pará appear next, with 1.47 million and 1.41 million families, respectively. Amapá had the smallest number (28 thousand).

The results of Professor Adriana Gioda’s study corroborate the IBGE / PNAD survey data and point out that firewood is the second most used fuel for cooking, being used by a significant portion of the population, around 30 million Brazilians. According to her, the expansion of the use of firewood in food preparation in the country is related to the increase in the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) canister. “Unemployment has also contributed to the increase in firewood consumption in homes. In this case, the situation is aggravated by the use of non-commercial collected wood used in rustic stoves, with inefficient burning, which causes an increase in its consumption and exposes people to a larger amount of particles”, she points out.

The World Health Organization (WHO) considers the wood stove to be the environmental factor responsible for the highest number of deaths worldwide. Women and children living in extreme poverty are at higher risk, because they are more exposed; men tend to spend less time at home. The possibility of alleviating suffering and saving millions of lives through low-cost intervention that can reduce carbon emissions and the speed with which forests are cleared, and spur economic growth, deserves a global effort.

For the researcher, replacing firewood and other solid fuels with cleaner fuels should be the government’s goal to minimize health costs. “There is a need to develop public policies that favor access to cleaner and cheaper energy for the poorest population. Some alternatives are investments in LPG extraction and production, a specific government energy purchase program or the implementation of alternative energies such as solar, wind, biogas or sustainable biomass, taking advantage of the great Brazilian forest potential. However, a thorough study is needed, as all alternatives have their own advantages and disadvantages”, he says.

For the upper class, the increase in firewood consumption is due to other factors, such as improved kitchens and balconies and new models of stoves and barbecue pits. “Importantly, there is a direct relationship between residential firewood consumption and regions with low human development rates and high inequality”, he adds.

Regarding the environmental impact, Professor Adriana Gioda points out that the use of firewood in the country has led to increased deforestation in some regions, such as Caatinga. Firewood for cooking purposes is considered a renewable energy source when it comes from reforestation. Currently, more than 90% of the firewood used in domestic activities comes from non-renewable sources, so the use of this fuel in cooking contributes significantly to the impact on global warming. Among the main fuels used for cooking, and based on the consumption of the Brazilian population, firewood is the major responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases.

Know more about the subject:

Residential fuelwood consumption in Brazil: Environmental and social implications

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