Journal of Public Health

, Volume 20, Issue 6, pp 565–575 | Cite as

Indoor air pollution from biomass fuels: a major health hazard in developing countries

  • Oluwafemi Oluwole
  • Oluwatofunmi O. Otaniyi
  • Godson A. Ana
  • Christopher O. OlopadeEmail author
Review Article



Nearly 3 billion people live without electricity today. This energy poverty means that they have to resort to biomass fuels for their household energy needs. When burned, these fuels release a mixture of toxic chemicals in their smoke, which is often over twenty times greater than World Health Organization (WHO) and Environmental Protection Agency recommended guideline limits.


This review details factors that contribute to indoor air pollution, its effects on health, and discusses corrective measures to consider when planning intervention strategies to stem the high morbidity and mortality trend.


The term developing countries is defined using the 2008 United Nations Conferences on Trade and Development Handbook. PubMed, Google Scholar and Science Direct databases from 1990 to 2011 were searched using the key terms: indoor air pollution, biomass fuel, particulate matter, health risks, and developing countries. Bibliographies of all relevant articles were also screened to find further eligible articles. Inclusion criteria were peer-reviewed articles and technical reports from global health organizations such as the WHO and United Nations Development Program. Exclusion criteria were articles focused on modern energy, developed countries, and non-English publications.


The review discusses the extent of indoor air pollution related to use of biomass for cooking and assesses its impact on various health and social problems, including lung diseases, adverse pregnancy outcomes and human development, especially in vulnerable populations. It also offers strategies to mitigate problems related to indoor air pollution.


Biomass fuel is a major cause of indoor air pollution and is a significant health hazard in developing countries. A thorough understanding of the connection between choice of fuel for household needs and health impact of long-term exposure to pollutants from smoke generated during use of biomass for cooking is required so that appropriate intervention strategies and policies can be established to protect vulnerable populations.


Indoor air pollution Biomass fuel Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Developing countries Maternal and child health 


Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Oluwafemi Oluwole
    • 1
  • Oluwatofunmi O. Otaniyi
    • 1
  • Godson A. Ana
    • 2
  • Christopher O. Olopade
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Global Health InitiativeUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.College of MedicineUniversity of IbadanIbadanNigeria

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