By Gift Briton

Using polluting fuels in homes has been identified as the main generator of the poisonous carbon monoxide (CO) gas in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.

This is according to a study conducted by researchers from Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) of the United Kingdom, Stockholm Environmental Institute, and the University of Stirling.

It sought to determine the burden of early life determinants and air pollution concentrations that were measured for 24 hours in about 200 homes in Nairobi.

Based on the study, nearly one in ten households in the city had air pollution levels that would cause a carbon monoxide alarm according to European standards. Moreover, household concentration of this gas frequently exceed the thresholds set by the World Health Organization (WHO). This may cause a considerable burden on health from acute carbon monoxide exposure and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Prolonged exposure to this kind of concentration in several homes may cause chronic health effects, particularly in child development. Chronic carbon monoxide concentrations have been associated with low birth weight and have neurodevelopmental impacts on children.

Although most households in Nairobi use liquid or gas fuels, the study established that the concentration of carbon monoxide in homes was comparable with those previously reported in rural homes that predominantly use more polluting solid fuels such as charcoal and wood.

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas generated from the incomplete combustion of carbon-based fuels in poorly ventilated spaces within homes. It is known as a silent killer as it is colourless and odourless. Globally, there are an estimated 29,000 deaths annually attributed to unintentional poisoning of this gas.

The study validates previous research findings that suggested that ‘cleaner’ fuels do not always generate the desired levels of reduction in household air pollution hence the need to address household air pollution in urban settings with targeted interventions to mitigate carbon monoxide exposure and safeguard public health.

The researchers call for a better understanding of carbon monoxide exposure in urban settings and target interventions, including community education on household air pollution, that reduce exposure from evening cooking activity within the home.