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Published: 29 Aug, 2017

Education campaigns needed to mitigate indoor air pollution in slum households

NEWS A study of air pollution levels in Kenyan slum households show that levels are especially high in homes using wood and kerosene as cooking fuels. But despite the high levels of harmful fine particles within their houses, residents perceive indoor air quality to be better than that found outdoors, and say that they are used to the situation. Imperfect knowledge among study participants about the adverse health effects of air pollution contribute to practices that worsen air quality, according to a doctoral thesis from Umeå University.

Open burning of waste in Korogocho slum, one of the studied communities. Photo: Kanyiva Muindi.

“We need efforts to address the drivers of air pollution in these communities,” says Kanyiva Muindi, doctoral student at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine. “Given the constitutional right of every Kenyan citizen to a clean environment I was disturbed to hear residents say that they are used to the polluted environment they live in and have resigned themselves to life under such difficult circumstances. It is my hope that much needed efforts to remedy the air pollution situation in Kenyan slums will be made.”

In the study, Kanyiva Muindi and research colleagues at the African Population and Health Research Center used questionnaires to collect behavioral data related to the sources of air pollution in Korogocho and Viwandani, two Nairobi slum areas where approximately 70,000 people live. Air samples to measure pollution levels were collected in 72 select households. Perceptions of air pollution were studied in focus group discussions with residents.

The study noted high levels of fine particles in the households. Also of concern were practices such as blocking of ventilation as well as closing doors and windows in the evenings while cooking, which exacerbated the concentration of the harmful particles within the home. Levels of fine particles were between 72µg/m3 and 94µg/m3 in homes using wood while households using kerosene had levels between 56µg/m3 and 92µg/m3. Exposure to air particle levels above 25µg/m3 for 24 hours is considered hazardous. The study also showed that the levels were highest in the evenings, when cooking occurs and lamps are lit for illumination, with levels between 80µg/m3 and 94µg/m3.

Kanyiva Muindi

“To improve air quality and ultimately save lives it will be important to provide impoverished communities with correct information regarding air quality and its damaging health effects. We need public education programs that fill this knowledge gap and suggest what actions people can take to reduce high levels of air pollutants in their homes, be it simply opening windows and ventilation while cooking, switching to cleaner cooking and lighting devices and fuels as well as proper solid waste management. Finally, another important part of this public education effort will be to inform and empower communities about their ability to reach out to the government and demand actions that reduce outdoor sources of pollution such as emissions from dumpsites or industries,” concludes Kanyiva Muindi.

Kanyiva Muindi is a Kenyan public health researcher who holds a Master’s degree in Epidemiology. She currently works in Nairobi for the African Population and Health Research Center within the Urbanization and Wellbeing program, which addresses the causes and consequences of urbanization in Africa. She is passionate about the environment and hopes that her research will contribute towards a clean environment for all, especially those in poor urban neighborhoods and rural areas.

Link to doctoral dissertation

For more information, please contact:

Kanyiva Muindi, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Epidemiology and Global Health Unit, Umeå UniversityPhone: +254-20-400 1000

About the dissertation defense:

On Friday September 1, Kanyiva Muindi, Epidemiology and Global Health Unit, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, will publicly defend her thesis titled: Air pollution in Nairobi's slums: Sources, levels and lay perceptions. Faculty opponent: Associate Professor Marie Thynell, School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg. Principal supervisor: Professor Nawi Ng.

The public dissertation defense will be at 9:00 am in Room 135, by 9A, University Hospital of Umeå (NUS).

Editor: Daniel Harju