Household carbon monoxide (CO) concentrations in a large African city: An unquantified public health burden?

Cressida Bowyer, Sean Semple*, Fred Orina, Evans Amukoye, Jeremiah Chakaya, Graham Devereux, Ruaraidh Dobson, Debasish Das, Ulrike Dragosits, Cindy Gray, Richard Kiplimo, Maia Lesosky, Miranda Loh, Hellen Meme, Kevin Mortimer, Amos Ndombi, Clare Pearson, Heather Price, Marsailidh Twigg, Sarah West

*Corresponding author for this work

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Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas produced by incomplete combustion of carbon-based fuels that is linked to mortality and morbidity. Household air pollution from burning fuels on poorly ventilated stoves can lead to high concentrations of CO in homes. There are few datasets available on household concentrations of CO in urban areas of sub-Saharan African countries. CO was measured every minute over 24 h in a sample of homes in Nairobi, Kenya. Data on household characteristics were gathered by questionnaire. Metrics of exposure were summarised and analysis of temporal changes in concentration was performed. Continuous 24-h data were available from 138 homes. The mean (SD), median (IQR) and maximum 24-h CO concentration was 4.9 (6.4), 2.8 (1.0–6.3) and 44 ppm, respectively. 50% of homes had detectable CO concentrations for 847 min (14h07m) or longer during the 24-h period, and 9% of homes would have activated a CO-alarm operating to European specifications. An association between a metric of total CO exposure and self-reported exposure to vapours >15 h per week was identified, however this were not statistically significant after adjustment for the multiple comparisons performed. Mean concentrations were broadly similar in homes from a more affluent area and an informal settlement. A model of typical exposure suggests that cooking is likely to be responsible for approximately 60% of the CO exposure of Nairobi schoolchildren. Household CO concentrations are substantial in Nairobi, Kenya, despite most homes using gas or liquid fuels. Concentrations tend to be highest during the evening, probably associated with periods of cooking. Household air pollution from cooking is the main source of CO exposure of Nairobi schoolchildren. The public health impacts of long-term CO exposure in cities in sub-Saharan Africa may be considerable and should be studied further.
Original languageEnglish
Article number124054
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Early online date2 May 2024
Publication statusEarly online - 2 May 2024


  • air pollution
  • household air pollution
  • ambient air pollution
  • human exposure
  • UKRI
  • MRC
  • MR/S009027/1

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