Some time ago, thanks to a conversation at a wedding in Eugene, Oregon, Rex Foundation Executive Director Sandy Sohcot learned about the work of StoveTeam International. Meeting with the groups’ founder, Nancy Hughes, Sandy learned about the fact that much of the world’s population, particularly in economically deprived countries, still does its cooking on indoor open fires, fueled by wood and brush. The consequences are horrific on numerous fronts: the fires frequently cause catastrophic burns to children and adults, and the particle-laden smoke causes health problems from respiratory disease to cataracts.
Confronted with this problem on a medical mission to Guatemala, Hughes realized that solving the problem meant offering a better, and realistic, alternative. A neighbor of Hughes designed a stove called the Ecocina, which burned cleanly and adapted well to local cooking style. It was also designed to be manufactured locally, creating jobs in the same communities where the stoves were used.
“I was taken by Nancy’s perseverance to solve a problem she thought was unacceptable by creating a living, vibrant network,” Sandy says. StoveTeam International received a grant of $5,000 from Rex in 2012, and recently sent Rex Foundation the following report:
Few health studies have evaluated the effect of introducing cleaner burning cookstoves on the aforementioned health outcomes. Non-profit stove organizations and small businesses typically lack the funds, equipment, and technical expertise needed to carry out scientifically rigorous, long-term studies to document the health benefits of their product, however, such studies provide much‐needed data regarding the efficacy of their stoves in the field and their effect on stove users’ health.
Therefore, researchers at Colorado State University have partnered with StoveTeam International to conduct a study in rural Honduras to evaluate the effects of introducing a cleaner burning cookstove (the Ecocina) on cardiovascular health and indoor air pollutant levels for women currently using a traditional open fire.
The Ecocina was designed by StoveTeam International to improve combustion of the wood fuel and therefore produce less smoke. The Ecocina stove uses less wood, reduces exposure to smoke, and is designed to keep the heat focused on the cooking surface and away from the stove body to prevent accidental burns.
The $5,000 grant received from Rex Foundation was used to purchase 100 Ecocinas for women participating in this study. The funds for purchasing cookstoves not only helps the women and families who receive the stoves, but the donation helps fund a study that will contribute valuable information for policymakers to address the issue of mitigating health effects from burning biomass in the home. This significant order for stoves also supported the locally owned and operated stove factory, E’Copan, in Copan Ruinas, Honduras.
Three rural communities (El Chilar, Boca del Monte, and Monte los Negros) near Copan Ruinas, Honduras were identified as eligible to participate in our study. These Chorti Mayan communities are located just inside Honduras near the Guatemalan border and are agricultural communities where corn, a dietary staple, is grown and seasonal work includes harvesting coffee. The daily diet consists primarily of corn tortillas, beans, and coffee; therefore, cookstoves must be able to accommodate pots for beans and comals (griddles) for making tortillas and roasting coffee beans. The Ecocina stove selected for this community allows women to cook with a comal (griddle) for tortillas, or the comal may be removed and pots may be set on pot supports for cooking beans and soups.
In December 2012, questionnaires were administered to two community leaders in each of the three participating communities to determine if there were current or previous community efforts to introduce cleaner burning cookstoves into homes and if smoke from traditional cookstoves was a concern to community members. Several years prior to our study, approximately 10 families in each of the three communities received stoves with chimneys from a non-profit organization. However, shifts in local political power caused project funding to be redirected; no additional families received stoves, and the chimney stoves deteriorated to non-functioning. All six community leaders stated that the families are poor, there are no community resources to replace traditional cookstoves, and therefore no community‐wide efforts to address the issues associated with indoor air pollution from cooking over open fires.
A total of 122 women were eligible and agreed to participate in the study. Over half of the women have never attended school, and only two women had attended school beyond the fifth grade. Homes were generally constructed of adobe blocks, although some were made of sticks, heavy black plastics, and scrap materials pieced together to form shelter. It was not unusual to find a home with six to ten family members and only one or two beds for the entire family. The women spend an average of six hours per day in the kitchen cooking for an average of six household members. It is primarily the male head of household’s responsibility to collect firewood, although various family members spend between two and three hours collecting wood, three times per week.
Baseline health measurements were collected January through March 2013 and monitors for carbon monoxide (CO) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) were placed in kitchens and worn by women participants for 24 hours for all 122 households. Following baseline measurements, two communities (91 women) received cleaner burning cookstoves. The third community (the control) will receive their cleaner burning cookstove in January 2014 after completion of follow‐up measures.
Each of the 91 homes that received stoves is visited each month by a representative of the E’Copan stove factory to examine the condition of the stove, answer questions about stove use, and complete a questionnaire about cooking practices and stove use. One of the two communities that received Ecocinas is receiving more extensive training than the other community so that an evaluation of the effectiveness of the community efforts can be conducted.
Area and personal samples for carbon monoxide and particulate matter are currently being analyzed. … All health and pollutant measures will be repeated for the entire study population. At that time we will be able to evaluate the changes in pollutant levels and measures of cardiovascular health (such as blood pressure) to determine the effect of the intervention. This summer an evaluation is underway of stove adoption and use.