Biomass fuel use and indoor air pollution in homes in Malawi

D. G. Fullerton, Sean Semple, F. Kalambo, A. Suseno, R. Malamba, George Dey Henderson, Jon Ayres, S. B. Gordon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Air pollution from biomass fuels in Africa is a significant cause of mortality and morbidity both in adults and children. The work describes the nature and quantity of smoke exposure from biomass fuel in Malawian homes.

Methods: Markers of indoor air quality were measured in 62 homes (31 rural and 31 urban) over a typical 24 h period. Four different devices were used (one gravimetric device, two photometric devices and a carbon monoxide (HOBO) monitor. Gravimetric samples were analysed for transition metal content. Data on cooking and lighting fuel type together with information on indicators of socioeconomic status were collected by questionnaire.

Results: Respirable dust levels in both the urban and rural environment were high with the mean (SD) 24 h average levels being 226 mu g/m(3) (206 mu g/m(3)). Data from real-time instruments indicated respirable dust concentrations were >250 mu g/m(3) for >1 h per day in 52% of rural homes and 17% of urban homes. Average carbon monoxide levels were significantly higher in urban compared with rural homes (6.14 ppm vs 1.87 ppm; p<0.001). The transition metal content of the smoke was low, with no significant difference found between urban and rural homes.

Conclusions: Indoor air pollution levels in Malawian homes are high. Further investigation is justified because the levels that we have demonstrated are hazardous and are likely to be damaging to health. Interventions should be sought to reduce exposure to concentrations less harmful to health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)777-783
Number of pages7
JournalOccupational and Environmental Medicine
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2009


  • smoke-free legislation
  • acute respiratory-infections
  • particulate matter
  • developing-countries
  • developing-world
  • carbon-monoxide
  • risk-factor
  • exposure
  • children
  • women


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