Biomass fuel is the primary source of domestic fuel in much of rural China. Previous studies have not characterized particle exposure through time–activity diaries or personal monitoring in mainland China.
In this study we characterized indoor and personal particle exposure in six households in northeastern China (three urban, three rural) and explored differences by location, cooking status, activity, and fuel type. Rural homes used biomass. Urban homes used a combination of electricity and natural gas.
Stationary monitors measured hourly indoor particulate matter (PM) with an aerodynamic diameter ≤ 10 μm (PM10) for rural and urban kitchens, urban sitting rooms, and outdoors. Personal monitors for PM with an aerodynamic diameter ≤ 2.5 μm (PM2.5) were employed for 10 participants. Time–activity patterns in 30-min intervals were recorded by researchers for each participant.
Stationary monitoring results indicate that rural kitchen PM10 levels are three times higher than those in urban kitchens during cooking. PM10 was 6.1 times higher during cooking periods than during noncooking periods for rural kitchens. Personal PM2.5 levels for rural cooks were 2.8–3.6 times higher than for all other participant categories. The highest PM2.5 exposures occurred during cooking periods for urban and rural cooks. However, rural cooks had 5.4 times higher PM2.5 levels during cooking than did urban cooks. Rural cooks spent 2.5 times more hours per day cooking than did their urban counterparts.
These findings indicate that biomass burning for cooking contributes substantially to indoor particulate levels and that this exposure is particularly elevated for cooks. Second-by-second personal PM2.5 exposures revealed differences in exposures by population group and strong temporal heterogeneity that would be obscured by aggregate metrics.