For 80-year-old grandmother Espirita Lima Bautista, breathing while cooking over her kitchen hearth is like inhaling the second-hand soot of 400 cigarettes.
Exposure to this dangerous pollution began when she was a baby, slung in a blanket over her mother’s back in her village in Peru. Two decades ago, concerns about cooking fires centered on deforestation. Now research shows that cookstoves can kill people, too. Indoor smoke from coal, wood or dung ranks ahead of unsafe water as a cause of death in low-income countries. Almost 2 million deaths a year are caused by cooking smoke, which is linked to pneumonia in children, low birth weight babies and lung cancer. The United Nations and governments have vowed to put improved cookstoves in people’s homes to clean up soot and greenhouse gases. The problem is that many newer models on the market actually make matters worse.