Outdoor air pollution is a growing public health concern, particularly in urban settings. However, there are limited epidemiological data on outdoor air pollution in rural areas with substantial levels of air pollution attributed to solid fuel burning for household cooking and heating. Xuanwei and Fuyuan are rural counties in China where the domestic combustion of locally sourced bituminous (“smoky”) coal has been associated with the highest lung cancer rates in China. We previously assessed indoor and personal air pollution exposures in this area; however, the influence of indoor coal combustion and household ventilation on outdoor air pollution has not been assessed. Therefore, we measured outdoor fine particulate matter (PM2.5), species of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) including naphthalene (NAP) and the known carcinogen benzo(a)pyrene (BaP), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over two consecutive 24-h sampling periods in 29 villages. Just over half of the villages were revisited two to nine months after the initial sampling period to repeat all measurements. The overall geometric mean (GM) of outdoor PM2.5, BaP, NAP, and NO2 were 45.3 µg/m3, 9.7 ng/m3, 707.7 ng/m3, and 91.5 µg/m3, respectively. Using linear mixed effects models, we found that burning smoky coal was associated with higher outdoor BaP concentrations [GM ratio (GMR) = 2.79] and lower outdoor SO2 detection rates (GMR = 0.43), compared to areas burning smokeless coal. Areas with predominantly ventilated stoves (> 50% of stoves) had higher outdoor BaP (GMR = 1.49) compared to areas with fewer ventilated stoves. These results show that outdoor air pollution in a rural region of China was associated with the type of coal used for cooking and heating indoors and the presence of stove ventilation. Our findings suggest that efforts of household stove improvement to reduce indoor air pollution have resulted in higher outdoor air pollution levels. Further reducing adverse health effects in rural villages from household coal combustion will require the use of cleaner fuel types.
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