Friday, January 16, 2015

Third World Problems: Shitty Air

Breaking science news: Yak dung burning pollutes indoor air of Tibetan households
Tibet is situated on a plateau northeast of the Himalayas in China. For centuries, nomadic people there have herded yaks, large, long-haired relatives of cattle. Yaks work as pack animals and supply meat, milk, and fiber for fabrics. They also generate heating fuel in the form of dung.
Yak milking and chip production
Previous studies had looked at indoor air quality in Tibet during the summer season. Saikawa and her team wanted to investigate indoor emissions during the colder months.

In March of 2013, Qingyang Xiao, a graduate student in Rollins School of Public Health, traveled to the Tibetan region of Nam Co (which means “heavenly lake”) to gather the data. About 4,500 residents live in the region, at an altitude of 4,730 meters.

Xiao used battery powered aerosol monitors to measure indoor concentrations of fine particulate matter, or particles 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller, which consists mainly of black carbon and organic carbon. She recorded the measurements in six households with different living conditions and stove types. Yak dung was the main fuel for cooking and the only fuel for heating.

The results showed that the average concentrations for black carbon and fine particulate matter were nearly double those reported by some similar studies of households in areas of lower altitude and warmer climates, such as India and Mexico.

The Tibetan homes included four traditional tents and two simple stone houses. Both the tents and the houses had only one room where all of the family members slept, ate and cooked.

Three of the families used traditional open stoves without chimneys, and three had added chimneys to their stoves. A simple house with a chimney had the lowest indoor concentrations. This household lived on tourism and used liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) for cooking.

However, a stone house with a chimney had the highest black carbon concentrations.
Despite constant whining about outdoors air pollution (and having grown up in the Los Angeles air-shed in the 50s, I'm well acquainted with air pollution) most of the air pollution that people experience comes from indoor air, the particles from cooking and cleaning and normal living.

Perhaps we could arrange to swap their yak chips for natural gas from fracking, and the envirohippies could burn the yak chips at home for heat as part of their sustainable life style.

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