Potential Health Impacts of Kerosene and Diesel Lamps in Developing World

October 18, 2010

Research conducted by a team of scientists led by Dustin Poppendieck at Humboldt State University and EETD's Evan Mills shows that kerosene lamps used by more than one-quarter of the world's population in developing nations emit high levels of particulates, resulting in concentrations substantially exceeding ambient health guidelines.

The research was published in the journal Indoor Air. Researchers tested several types of simple wick lamps, hurricane lamps, which have a glass casing, and other types of light sources commonly found in developing nations. The conditions for the testing simulated the enclosed kiosks typically used by vendors in outdoor air markets in many developing nations. The scientists measured the concentrations in the air of a range of particle sizes, including the PM2.5, which impact human health.

They found that vendors who use a single simple wick lamp in market kiosks will likely be exposed to PM2.5 concentrations that are an order of magnitude greater than ambient health guidelines. Exposure levels to particulates from simple wick lamps may be even higher in most residential indoor environments, as these tend to have lower rates of air exchange (less ventilation) than kiosks. Using a hurricane lamp will reduce exposure to PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations by an order of magnitude compared to using a simple wick lamp. Vendors who change from fuel-based lighting to electric lighting technology for enhanced illumination will likely gain the ancillary health benefit of reduced particulate matter exposure.

Up to 1.6 billion people, conducting business and performing tasks after dark, are exposed to high particulate matter concentrations as a result of these inefficient lighting sources. Inefficient wood and other biomass cookstoves in kitchens also contribute substantially to human exposure, which can lead to such health effects as respiratory disease. Broader efforts are under way to introduce and study the health and economic effects of clean light-emitting diode (LED) based lamps into the developing world to reduce exposure to smoke from inefficient-burning light sources.

The research was sponsored by the Art Rosenfeld Fund at the Blum Center for Developing Economies at the University of California at Berkeley.

J. Apple, R. Vicente, A. Yarberry, N. Lohse, E. Mills, A. Jacobson, D. Poppendieck. "Characterization of particulate matter size distributions and indoor concentrations from kerosene and diesel lamps." Indoor Air 2010; 20: 399–411