Professor Kirk R. Smith, one of the world’s foremost environmental scientists, gave a presentation at Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF) yesterday. His lecture, entitled “Incomplete Combustion: One of the World’s Biggest Killers,” represented the 14th edition of QF’s Distinguished Lecture Series.
A Professor of Global Environmental Health at the University of California, Berkeley in the U.S., Professor Smith’s work focuses primarily on the effects of pollution. Using combustion particles as his indicator, Smith was the first to quantify the exposure to polluted air amongst people in developing nations who cook indoors with solid fuels, such as wood or coal.
During his lecture, Professor Smith highlighted some of the world’s most damaging pollutants, including biogas, kerosene and crop residue. He also revealed that air pollutants produced from typical wood-fired stoves in India and elsewhere have extremely high carcinogen content. Consequently, the use of such cookers is significantly more damaging to one’s physical health than stoves powered by other means.
“It’s not the spectacular that kills you, it’s the mundane,” explained Professor Smith. “And my purpose is not to push a particular technology, it’s to get rid of smoke both inside and outside the household. One way to do that is to promote electric cooking devices that don’t use wood or coal. Electric rice cookers and electric tea pots are efficient devices, and shouldn’t be used over an open fire.”
Professor Smith’s research concluded that indoor air pollution directly affects 40% of the world’s population. Exposure to the products of poor combustion, particularly small particles, is responsible for as many as 12 million premature deaths around the world annually.
Following his lecture, Professor Smith was fulsome in his praise for QF’s pursuit of scientific innovation.
“Qatar Foundation is promoting the best science in the world, to cure the most serious problems in the world,” he said. “Health is a pillar of democracy, but democracy is also a pillar of health, to make sure that the poorest in the world are also covered. You can’t have a sustainable planet without education, but you can’t have a sustainable planet without good health either. And this includes the very poorest among us.”
Dr. Dirar Khoury, Acting Executive Director of QF’s Research Division, highlighted the importance to QF of having academic luminaries share their expertise with a Qatari audience. “At Qatar Foundation, we believe that a knowledge-based society is the only way forward to confront challenges and take advantage of the opportunities of tomorrow,” he said.
“As such, we are privileged to have Professor Smith share with us his experiences in the field of environmental health, a priority for Qatar. QF’s Distinguished Lecture Series provides opportunities for exchange between international leaders in research and local research stakeholders, and inspires the young generation to be leaders of research in Qatar and around the world.”