Home Institution

Claremont Mckenna College

Publication Date

Fall 2012

Program Name

Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment


Fresh air: a natural and necessary commodity, and yet one that is missing from many of the world’s households. In rural communities and in the developing world, indoor air pollution is a very real health burden, constituting a factor in 2.5 million deaths every year. The homes of the IX Region of Chile are particularly disposed to indoor pollution, due to the use of biomass fuels for cooking and heating during the cold winter months. This investigation aims to supplement the relatively scarce amount of literature investigating the use of biomass fuels that contribute to indoor pollution in this region.

Specifically, the study focused on the particular types of fuel used, their manner of use, cultural attitudes towards fuel use and pollution, and the practices of the population regarding these fuels. Information was gathered via oral surveys conducted in the rural community of Chol-Chol, in the Araucanía region, and through interviews with three professionals in fields relating to the subject.

The results of the study identified firewood as the predominant fuel source, burned in woodstoves with basic chimneys. Knowledge of the dangers of indoor pollution was skewed, with many participants reporting that they avoid the toxic smoke of coal, but failing to recognize the potential hazards of wood smoke in the home environment. While knowledge of the importance of “dry” firewood was widespread, few other healthy practices, such as the use of ventilation, were identified. Finally, the population showed little willingness to consider changing their fuel practices, displaying a lack of consensus regarding preferable clean fuels.

The lack of knowledge of the risks of wood smoke, or healthy practices such as ventilation, suggest that further education of the population is necessary to prevent the health risks associated with prolonged exposure. However, there are also many more factors, such as economic inequality and cultural significance, which will need to be studied and addressed before significant and healthy changes can be realized.


Environmental Health and Protection | Oil, Gas, and Energy | Sustainability


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