Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Endotoxin from Biomass Burning: An Underestimated Health Hazard?

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Endotoxin from Biomass Burning: An Underestimated Health Hazard?

Article excerpt

Approximately 3 billion people worldwide burn biomass--wood, charcoal, dried animal dung, and crop residue--to heat their homes and cook their food. Biomass often is burned in small, poorly ventilated areas; the resulting smoke exposure frequently causes respiratory infections, primarily among women and children younger than 5 years, who spend the most time around the home fires. Recent findings suggest airborne endotoxin generated from burning biomass may play an important role in the health effects associated with biomass smoke [EHP 118(7):988-991; Semple et al.].

According to the World Health Organization, exposure to smoke from biomass burning is responsible for 1.5 million premature deaths annually. Previous research has focused primarily on the mass of airborne fine particulate matter as being responsible for the morbidity and mortality caused by biomass burning. These particles can penetrate deep into the lungs, causing inflammation and both acute and chronic airway and lung damage.

Endotoxins are part of the cell wall of gram-negative bacteria and are found in organic material. These molecules can cause lung inflammation and have previously been found in tobacco smoke and in homes where there are pets and mold.

To evaluate the presence of airborne endotoxin in homes where biomass is burned, the researchers set up air sampling monitors in 31 homes in Nepal and 38 homes in Malawi. …

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