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Mapping brick kilns to improve health of people and the environment

Using satellite imagery, a team of Stanford researchers has designed a mapping tool with the potential to transform brick manufacturing across South Asia. If successful, their efforts could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants from brick kilns and lead to dramatic benefits for human and environmental health.

A Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment press release explains that brick kilns across South Asia have a global warming impact equivalent to that of all passenger cars in the United States. Air pollution from these kilns kills tens of thousands of people each year as a result of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, according to Stephen Luby, MD, Stanford epidemiologist and director of Stanford Global Health.

Efforts have been made to reduce brick kiln emissions, but significant hurdles remain in kiln regulation and policy implementation. In India and Bangladesh, local authorities typically don’t have reliable data on the number or locations in their regions, making it nearly impossible to implement effective policies and regulations, said Luby.

Luby was looking out the window as he flew over India when he realized he could see brick kilns on the ground below. When he returned to Stanford, he enlisted a team of researchers from political science, geophysics, environmental science and electrical engineering to determine what it would take to create a real-time database that could detect kilns by remote satellite.

The team is partnering with local kiln owners and teams on the ground in Bangladesh to measure the kilns’ health effects and incentivize kiln owners to switch to cleaner and cheaper technologies.

“Ultimately, we foresee consolidating all of this information onto a website that is available to all of the people in Bangladesh and use this as a message to get a message out. Where are the brick kilns, what can be done to improve the brick kilns, and how can we help catalyze that process?" Luby said. "We hope the approaches we’re using will be adaptable not just to Bangladesh, but across South Asia.”

Previously: Filtering pollution one nostril at a time and Examining ways to reduce health risks from cookstove pollution in developing countries

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