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Environmental Factor, January 2012

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Volunteers translate NIEHS cookstove research in Guatemala

Poorly vented open fire

Like millions of households worldwide, before receiving their new cookstove, this family prepared meals over a poorly vented open fire. NIEHS research has linked air pollution from open fires, such as this one, to an increase in respiratory and other preventable disease. (Photo courtesy of John Paulsrud)

NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., received an unexpected holiday gift Dec. 24, thanking her for NIEHS research on respiratory illness and indoor air pollution.

The note, from biochemist John Paulsrud, Ph.D., a member of the Zionsville [Ind.] United Methodist Church and a retired research staff member at Indiana University School of Medicine, pointed to a recent report about research led by NIEHS grantee Kirk Smith, Ph.D. Smith estimates that indoor air pollution from cooking over open fires kills almost 1.6 million children worldwide each year (see story( ).

The United Press International online report, Paulsrud said, helped raise his congregation’s awareness of the potential preventive health impact of efficient wood-burning cookstoves for people in developing countries, inspiring one member to donate funds to purchase 100 Guatemalan-produced stoves for indigenous Mayans.

“To date,” Paulsrud wrote, “70 families have received stoves.” Installing the stoves is part of a missionary program in Guatemala focused on healthcare, literacy, sanitation, and construction improvements to strengthen community infrastructure. The full-time mission staff includes a Guatemalan dentist, physician, and social worker.

Paulsrud, his wife, and other members of the Zionsville congregation are part of an effort by the United Methodist Church’s Mission Guatemala and other non-governmental organizations. The group documented their public health prevention efforts with photos by Paulsrud that tell the story of how NIEHS research can lead to meaningful change on the front lines of global public health.

Mission Guatemala volunteers assembling a stove

Mission Guatemala volunteers assemble the stove by lifting precast concrete pieces into place. (Photo courtesy of John Paulsrud)

Guatamalan family with their new stove

The extended family can now look forward to cleaner air and cleaner walls in their Guatemalan home. The new stove is also more efficient, which can translate into less time and effort spent gathering fuel. (Photo courtesy of John Paulsrud)

Mayan children

The children of this indigenous Mayan family spent much of their time with their mother as she cooked, which meant they, too, were exposed to potentially harmful levels of particulate matter from incomplete combustion. (Photo courtesy of John Paulsrud)

Mission Guatemala volunteers venting and sealing a stove

The final steps of the process involve venting the smoke to the outside and sealing gaps between parts of the new stove. (Photo courtesy of John Paulsrud)

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