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PARIS – (AFP) – Reducing the use of wood-burning stoves in an Australian city led to a sharp fall in deaths from respiratory diseases and heart failure, a study published on Tuesday said.
The paper, published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), highlights the pollution risks from inefficient biomass burning, used by billions of people for heating and cooking.
University of Tasmania researchers looked at what happened when a local city, Launceston, implemented a scheme to reduce pollution from wood smoke.
It launched a campaign to educate residents about the risks of smoke from wood-burning stoves and offered help to replace these with electric ones.
From 2001 to 2004, the number of households that used wood-burning stoves fell from 66 to 30 percent. Atmospheric pollution from air particulates during winter fell by 40 percent.
Deaths among men fell by 11.4 percent, particularly from cardiovascular causes, which saw a decline of 17.9 percent, and from respiratory causes, which retreated by 22.8 percent.
There was no statistically significant fall among women, a question that was not addressed by the study.
The mortality figures derive from a six-and-a-half year comparison between Launceston with Hobart, the Tasmanian capital, which did not have any air-quality interventions.
Tasmania, Australia’s southern-most state, has a climate that is usually colder and wetter than the rest of the country.
Wood-burning stoves to heat homes became popular in Tasmania during the 1980s and 1990s, eventually causing pollution problems in Launceston, a city of 67,000 people, which is located in a river valley where haze accumulated, according to the study.
The problems of biomass pollution are well known, but there is a big gap in scientific evidence about the effectiveness of smoke-reducing schemes, said the study.
Only a few studies have ever been carried out to explore the impact of air-quality interventions.