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Queen's University

Leah Savage '07


Thesis Title:

Urban Ecosystems and Human Health in South Africa: Examining the Relationships between Housing, Energy, Indoor Air Quality and Respiratory Health

Research Description:
In South Africa one of the strongest influences on domestic indoor air quality is the type of energy used for heating, cooking and other household purposes. Emissions from fuel combustion, along with housing factors, can result in respiratory infections, one of the largest causes of death in the country. In this study, we examine the relationships between energy types, patterns of use, housing conditions such as improper ventilation and overcrowding, indoor air quality and respiratory health in poorer communities of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. These variables are examined using an ecological perspective through the integration of quantitative and qualitative data on individual time-activity budgets, housing materials and structure, energy sources used for heating, cooking and lighting, respiratory symptoms and continuous real time monitoring of indoor air pollutants (particulate matter (PM), carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and sulphur dioxide (SO2)). A total of 20 dwellings, both formal and informal, were sampled over a period of 60 days. Preliminary analysis shows that 24-hour average values of PM10 and PM2.5 were 77 μg/m3 and 15 μg/m3 respectively, while 8-hour average values of CO were 12 ppm. These values exceed World Health Organization guidelines, except for values of PM2.5 (WHO guidelines: 50 μg/m3 (PM10), 25 μg/m3 (PM2.5), and 10 ppm (CO)). No significant differences between formal and informal dwellings and PM10 levels was observed; however, PM10 levels increased with the use of increasingly inefficient-burning fuel types (gas < paraffin < wood). This finding suggests that fuel used in dwellings parties the most significant factor in the creation of indoor air pollutants. Lastly, of all 93 persons occupying the dwellings, 84 % reported high rates of nasal symptoms, 79 % reported eye irritation and 79 % chronic cough, all of which may correspond to ill respiratory health. Further analysis will be used to inform local governments and NGOs of potential local environmental health risks, so that policy and resources can be allocated accordingly to improve physical environments.

Career Path:  I am working as an Environmental Health Analyst at the Eastern Ontario Health Unit in Cornwall.  I am on a 6 month contract to help write and finish their State of the Environment Report.  I'm really liking it so far...using a lot of skills I picked up in the MES program! (November 2007)

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