Domestic dung fires are not safe

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  • Published: Nov 5, 2013
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Atomic / Proteomics / NMR Knowledge Base / Raman / X-ray Spectrometry / Infrared Spectroscopy / Base Peak / Chemometrics & Informatics / UV/Vis Spectroscopy / MRI Spectroscopy

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We Westerners tend to look at cow dung as something to be avoided, especially when talking a walk in the country. But for people in some developing countries, dung is essential to daily life. Its easy access and high heating power make it an attractive domestic fuel for cooking and heating. However, it comes with a major drawback. Dung is often burned in traditional open stoves without a proper ventilation system, so is associated with a lot of indoor air pollution and a team of scientists from the Republic of Korea has recently estimated just how much.

Under controlled conditions in the lab, they burnt dried dung from cows that had been fed on grass, as described in Environmental Science and Technology. The emission of particulate matter was extremely high during the initial combustion period then fell significantly during cooking. Particulates are known to cause lung and respiratory problems and the team estimated that the emission rates were large enough to produce significant indoor pollution.

In addition to the particulates, about 40 volatile organic compounds were detected by GC/MS. They included significant concentrations of acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, benzene and toluene. The levels of benzene, which is a known carcinogen, could exceed occupational exposure limits, especially in a room without ventilation.

As long as there remains no alternative domestic fuel, programs should be rolled out in countries where dung burning is common to educate people on the dangers and how best to avoid its ill effects, with adequate ventilation top of the list. 


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