Background Prolonged exposure to combustion of biomass fuels and other pollutants used in the cooking process has been shown to lead to adverse respiratory outcomes. Combustion of biomass fuels releases a variety of contaminants including particulates carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide. Informal street trading, particularly informal food preparation, using biomass fuels, is increasing in developing countries.
Objectives To compare the respiratory health outcomes among ambient pollutant exposed and non-exposed female informal street traders in Warwick Junction, Durban, South Africa.
Methods A descriptive cross-sectional study was conducted among 305 female traders selected from exposed and non-exposed areas within the Warwick Junction trading hub. Validated questionnaires, clinical assessments and lung function tests were conducted among all participants.
Results Participants were middle aged (mean age 43.6 years), of low socio-economic status and working in the Warwick Junction for average of 14 years. Increased exposure-related risks for key respiratory outcomes were found. Traders in exposed areas showed an increased risk of developing chronic bronchitis (OR = 2.6; CI: 1.5, 4.5) as compared to the non-exposed traders. Decreased lung capacity was observed in exposed traders, FEV1 (−0.2; CI: −0.4, −0.07) and FVC (−0.5; CI: −0.7, −0.3). Traders were also stratified according to trading areas and traders in the traditional herb market were found to have increased risk of developing adverse respiratory outcomes as compared to other trading areas.
Conclusion Adverse respiratory outcomes among informal female street traders are likely to be associated with exposure to occupational pollutants, such as biomass fuels, plant extracts and dusty environments.
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