KU Researchers address Indoor air contamination in rural households

Rural areas in Kenya are usually considered to have clean and healthy air compared to urban areas. This may be true with regard to outdoor air but not indoor air. A significant proportion of rural dwellers lives in soil-walled/floored traditional dwellings and since soils naturally contain terrestrial radionuclides 238U and 232Th, the earthen building materials can be important sources of radon and thoron, radioactive gases in the decay chains of 238U and 232Th respectively. Radon and thoron are carcinogens and according to World Health Organization account for majority of lung-cancer cases among non-smokers. Most rural dwellers don’t have access to electricity and resort to kerosene lamps for their lighting needs.

A traditional mud house

Additionally, cooking and heating is often done using biomass such as wood. Kerosene and biomass produce particulate matter (PM) when burned, and exposure to particulate matter (PM) can lead to health conditions such as respiratory and cardio-vascular disorders. Radon and thoron research in rural Kenya is on-going in the department of physics which is currently collaborating with Hirosaki University, Japan, through Prof. Shinji Tokonami. The department has in the past collaborated with the Helmholtz Zentrum, München, Germany through Dr. Jochen Tschiersch. The goal is to eventually generate a radon-thoron map for Kenya that may be used for reference and in policy formulation. Research on particulate matter (PM) will be starting soon.

Research coordinated by:

Dr. Margaret Chege

Department of Physics

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