Letter Re: Not All Kerosene Lamps Are Created Equal

Mr. Rawles;
As a young researcher in the field of indoor and household air pollution, I felt compelled to respond briefly to the commentary on kerosene lamps in today’s “Odds ‘n Sods”. Additionally, having met two and worked with one of the authors of this paper, I feel that I may have a perspective on the article that is unique among your readers.

While it may be true that a natural disaster contributes more to atmospheric carbon levels than emissions from kerosene lamps in the United States, it may not be true when considering kerosene lamps in other countries — which I believe was the focus of the article.

Kerosene lamps and lanterns in developed countries are much more highly engineered than in third-world areas. I have personally worked with and tested Ugandan kerosene lamps, which are nothing like the hurricane-style lanterns here in the US. The Ugandan lamps, known as “tadoobas”, are non-systematically constructed of old aerosol cans and thick round wicks with no wick control. These things smoke like crazy. In my experimentation, I found that adding a flat wick with wick control (much like US kerosene lamps have) and adding a simple reflector decreased smoke emissions while maintaining light levels. The point, though, is that basic lamps available to third-world customers are smoky, poorly made, and dangerous.
I’ve also found in my research that it’s not what you burn, it’s how you burn it. Any fuel can be made to burn cleanly under the right conditions. It would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater to immediately condemn all kerosene fuel use.

I sincerely hope that this article is not used to demonize kerosene lamps stateside, as I do not believe those to be the source of the problem identified by the researchers. Anyone citing this article to crack down on kerosene use here in the US would indeed be misusing science. As a warning against using shoddy, poorly engineered, or inefficient kerosene lighting devices, however, I believe the article to be well within its bounds.

I hope that my perspective adds clarity to the article, and I would be happy to continue to dialogue with any readers who have further questions. Thank you very much. Sincerely, – K.G.