Study Reveals Serious Health Risks From Roadside Grill Smoke

A roadside grill shop in Vientiane, Laos (Lao Youth Radio)
A roadside grill shop in Vientiane, Laos (Lao Youth Radio)

A recent local study found that roadside grill vendors in Laos face severe health risks from air pollution due to inhalation of grill smoke.

Vientiane Times reports that the Faculty of Public Health, University of Health Sciences, has published the results of two studies, titled “Air pollution exposure among grill workers in Laos: Issues of inequalities and gender” and “Emissions of air pollution and GHGs.”

Associate Prof. Dr. Akao Lyvongsa chaired a meeting on Wednesday to publicize the results of the studies, pointing out that biomass burning releases both solid and gaseous toxic particles into the air.

This particulate matter has been shown to cause cancer in human beings.

According to Prof. Dr. Akao, the number of premature deaths in Laos caused by air pollution is high compared to other countries.

Furthermore, the study also found that women were more likely to be working alone at the grill and to spend more time (6-7 days per week), believed to be due to gender-based work expectations.

The study proposes that women should be given more time off, away from grills, and that they should work in two-hour shifts to reduce their exposure to smoke. Grill workers were also urged to take precautions against smoke inhalation when cooking on barbecues by donning masks and gloves.

But the roadside vendors are not the only victims, with a Global Disease Study conducted in 2019 showing that Laos saw 8,043 premature deaths connected directly to air pollution in that year.

Estimates for Laos’ total PM 2.5 emissions in 2019 were 37.1 and 3.72 kilotons, respectively, according to the study.

Link Between Air Pollution and Cancer

According to a recent study by the Francis Crick Institute in London, researchers say they now know how air pollution can lead to cancer. The study showed that places with higher levels of air pollution had more lung cancer cases that were not caused by smoking.

Researchers say breathing in particulate matter (PM 2.5) leads to the activation of cells that sometimes contain potentially cancerous mutations. The cells are normal, acquired as we age, but can become cancerous when triggered by air pollution.

The combustion of charcoal or wood, including grill smoke, also results in the emission of hydrocarbons, a class of volatile organic compounds. In addition, it creates soot particles, the inhalation of which can lead to a wide range of respiratory ailments.

As more and more Laotians make their homes in towns and cities, street vendors selling grilled foods have sprung up all throughout the country.

Environmental health risks cause over 20% of all deaths in Laos, or about 10,000 deaths a year, and more than 100 million sick days. The cost to the economy each year is estimated to be close to 15% of GDP.