open fire, wood-burning stove
Four boys were asked to dip their hands in boiling oil in order to prove their innocence.Lars Falkdalen Lindahl / Flickr

Using solid fuels like wood, charcoal and coal for cooking, heating and lighting can leave a lasting impact on health, according to new research.

A study, reported in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, found that too much exposure to high levels of household air pollution posed serious risks to global health. Nearly three billion people face early death due to household air pollution and 600 to 800 million families who use solid fuels risk deadly diseases like respiratory tract infections, pneumonia, COPD, asthma, and lung cancer, the researchers said.

To make their point more clear, researchers pointed to a previous study conducted in India that found that household air pollution contributed widely to outdoor pollution. Pollution levels in such areas crossed the WHO safety levels and were three times higher than that of London streets.

The findings bring concern as about one third of the world's total population use traditional wood-burning stoves for various household purposes. A latest data from World Health Organization (WHO) shows that three billion people around the world use open fires or stoves burning coal or biomass like wood, animal dung and crop waste. Many prefer cooking over open fire stoves as it is believed to enhance taste of the food.

However, in 2010, household air pollution claimed about 3.5 to 4 million lives around the world.

Experts at WHO have attributed four million premature deaths to household air pollution. They estimated that about 3.8 million people contract deadly diseases like heart disease and COPD through household air pollution and get killed. According to the organization, the cooking-heating method contributes widely to pneumonia in small children and about 50 percent of premature deaths among children below five are caused by exposure to the particulate matter.

Concerned with their findings, researchers urged authorities to spread more awareness among the public. "All of the evidence we examined in this Commission points to a serious need for improved commitment to tackling the problem of household air pollution. Scientists and health professionals in countries where household air pollution is still widespread need to work with governments and international health agencies to increase awareness of the huge toll that it is exacting on the population," lead researcher professor William Martin, from The Ohio State University, USA, said in a news release.

Health risk posed by solid fuels has been a source of concern around the world. An August research linked pollutants from open fire to cardiovascular diseases in women. Researchers from McGill University in Canada recorded levels of different types of air pollutants present in the rural Yunnan province of China and found that exposure to the black carbon pollutants from burning wood led to high blood pressure in participants.

Small particles, emitted during wood or coal burning, remain many months in the lungs to cause severe damages to the organ and increase a person's risk of getting strokes and heart attack, according to Environment and Human Health.