The brief, which was produced in partnership between researchers from RTI International and the Sri Lanka National Institute of Health, assessed the use of biomass cook stoves in Sri Lanka. In the brief, researchers reviewed data on respiratory diseases and characterized stove use in country. The team also incorporated comparative international research and developed a comprehensive profile of risk factors and stove use.

More than half of the world's people cook their food and heat their homes by burning coal, wood, dung and other biomass in open fires or rudimentary stoves, most often indoors. Such cooking releases toxic gases and particles into confined spaces, creating extremely high exposures and adding tremendously to the greenhouse pollutant burden.

Exposure to pollution from biomass cook stoves is responsible for more than 1.6 million premature deaths each year, according to the World Health Organization.

The research team found that biomass fuel is the main resource for cooking for the majority of Sri Lankan households, and thus is a major source of indoor air pollution.

"Indoor air pollution is a neglected public health issue in Sri Lanka from both the public's and the government's policy perspectives," said Myles Elledge, a senior director at RTI and the project's team leader. "There is a limited understanding of the health risks and consequences among both stove users and policy makers in Sri Lanka."

According to the World Health Organization, exposure to indoor air pollution from solid fuels has been linked to many acute and chronic diseases, including pneumonia, acute respiratory infections, tuberculosis, asthma, cardiovascular disease, cataracts, and adverse perinatal health outcomes (stillbirth, low birth weight).

Sri Lanka's demographic trends show both a large young population and a sizeable aging population. Consequently, indoor air pollution poses a serious risk for large segments of its population that are likely inside the home during stove operation.

This policy brief, published by RTI Press, calls attention to the need for policies to address indoor air pollution in Sri Lanka, given its serious health risks for broad segments of the population. The authors point to the need for a focused action plan for Sri Lanka to reduce indoor air pollution exposure.

The brief also recommends that community-based programs in Sri Lanka are needed to raise awareness of the environmental health risks and implementing household interventions to mitigate these risks.

Read the report here