A $1.5 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency will help researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Center for Atmospheric Research measure pollution from residential cooking and better understand a problem that kills millions of women and children each year in the developing world.

According to the EPA, more than 3 billion people worldwide rely on the burning of wood, plant matter, coal and waste for cooking or heating. Exposure to cookstove emissions, particularly indoor exposure, ranks as one of the five worst overall health risk factors in poor developing countries, with the World Health Organization estimating 4.3 million premature deaths per year due to exposure to smoke from traditional cookstoves.

“We’re hoping to figure out how to reduce women and children’s exposure to air pollutants in sub-Saharan Africa through technology and getting people to think about changes to their behavior,” says Mike Hannigan, associate professor of mechanical and environmental engineering at CU-Boulder. Hannigan is the principal investigator on the EPA grant to measure and model air quality and climactic impacts of residential biomass and coal combustion for cooking in west Africa.