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More than half the world's population still rely on burning biomass fuels to heat and light their homes and cook food. Household air pollution, a common component of which is inhalable particulate matter (PM), emitted from biomass burning is associated with increased vulnerability to respiratory infection and an enhanced risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In the light of an emerging hypothesis linking chronic PM exposure during childhood and increased vulnerability to respiratory diseases in adulthood, in a chain of events involving oxidative stress, reduced immunity and subsequent infection, the aim of this study was to characterise the oxidative potential (OP) of PM collected during the burning of wood and mixed biomass, whilst cooking food in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Our assessments were based on the capacity of the particles to deplete the physiologically relevant antioxidants from a validated, synthetic respiratory tract lining fluid (RTLF). Incubation of mixed biomass and wood smoke particles suspensions with the synthetic RTLF for 4 h resulted in a mean loss of ascorbate of 64.76 ± 16.83% and 83.37 ± 14.12% at 50 μg/ml, respectively. Reduced glutathione was depleted by 49.29 ± 15.22% in mixed biomass and 65.33 ± 13.01% in wood smoke particles under the same conditions. Co-incubation with the transition metal chelator diethylenetriaminepentaacetate did not inhibit the rate of ascorbate oxidation, indicating a negligible contribution by redox-active metals in these samples. The capacity of biomass smoke particles to elicit oxidative stress certainly has the potential to contribute towards negative health impacts associated with traditional domestic fuels in the developing world.

Original publication




Journal article


Free Radic Res

Publication Date





829 - 835


Air Pollutants, Biomass, Female, Humans, Inhalation Exposure, Oxidation-Reduction, Smoke, Wood