Doroski Wins ' Service To America Medal'
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When most Americans think of air pollution, they think of cars on the freeway in Los Angeles or smokestacks from any industrial area spewing exhaust into the air. But in many parts of the world, the worst air pollution is indoors.
"This (indoor air pollution) kills more people than malaria," said Brenda Doroski, a recent recipient of the Service to America Medal.
Doroski, who is the daughter of Brenda and Cal Brown of Moytoy Lane in Connestee Falls and a frequent visitor of her parents, received the award, along with her colleague, for her work with the international Partnership for Clean Indoor Air ((PCIA) .
Since Cal Brown was in the Air Force, he and his family moved around a great deal when his daughter was young. Doroski spent 6 years in Germany and 3 years in Alaska, before the family settled down in Virginia where she graduated from high school.
"I think I knew from high school I wanted to join the Peace Corps," she said.
After graduating from Virginia Tech, where her interests lay in pre-med and public health. she joined the Peace Corps. Due to her time abroad, she knew how to speak three foreign languages - German, French and Spanish.
When she arrived in Guatemala in the mid 1980s, she and her Peace Corps cohorts received three months of intensive training before they were sent into the countryside by themselves. Even though the Guatemala was involved in a civil war at that time, Doroski said she felt safe because the Peace Corps prohibits its employees from engaging in any political activity.
"Unless you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, you were out of it," she said of the civil war.
Once her training was finished, she went to work in a medical clinic in the mountains. She ran vaccination campaigns, taught basic hygiene and helped treat people with diseases such as malnutrition, diarrhea, respiratory illness, etc. While the mountainous countryside was beautiful, the level of poverty was unexpected.
"I'd never seen poverty like that," she said, explaining that there was no running water, no latriines, no indoor water and very few places with electricity.
"I rigged up a shower outside my home," she said.
While in Guatemala Doroski was introduced to the problem of indoor air pollution. She said people in Guatemala, like 3 billion people in the world, cook and heat with traditional biomass. Many of the homes in which wood and other biomass are burned are poorly ventilated and the amount of smoke people inhale in these homes may be 100 times what we are exposed to by our outdoor pollutants.
"There's nothing romantic about it," siad Doroski, noting that some people have a romantic notion of doing cooking the old-fahsioned way
She said that when she would go into a hut to cook, within five minutes she would be coughing and gasping for air. She had to do all of her cooking demonstrations outside.
After she fnished her two-year stint in Guatemala in 1987, she returned to Washington, D.C. where she worked for the Peace Corps as a liasion, helping coordinate budgets and preparing new volunteers for their oversears assignments.
Doroski said that since President John F. Kennedy decided to limit employment time in the Peace Corps when he founded the organization, Doroski joined the Environmental Protection Agency where she worked on indoor air quality issues in the United States. In particular, Doroski focused on radon, environmental asthma triggers and air quality in schools.
When the World Summit on Sustainable Development met earlier this century, it became apparent to members of the U.S. State Department that indoor air polluution was the fourth leading killer in the world and that if the U.S. were going to improve world health, this was a problem that needed to be addressed. The logical governmental body to address the problem was the EPA. So, in 2002, Doroski and colleague John Mitchell began the International Partnership for Clean Indoor Air.
"It's funny how 20 years later that came back into my life," said Doroski.
The PCIA foscues on four areas: breaking down socal and behavioral barrietrs, developing local markets, technology design and performance, and impact assessment.
Doroski said changing the way people cook is not easy. People do not easily break with tradition and cultural hurdles are sometimes difficult to overcome. For example, Doroski said people in Latin America tend to cook inside while those in Africa tend to cook outside. Thus, cooking appliacnes for each continent, even countries, may need to be different. In India she said the people cook kneeling on the floor, so stoves built for their use must be low to the ground. Peoplel in other cultures prefer to cook standing up, so their stoves must be designed and constructed to accommodate their culture. Not only must stoves conform to the culture, but they also must be able to burn or run on local fuels.
"Definitely, one size does not fit all," said Doroski. "You have to have a local solution."
As part of its mission to develop affordable "clean stoves," Doroski said PCIA helps train local entrepreneurs to build local factories and develop local distribution systems.
"That's also part of the sustainability," she said.
Doroski said that while nonprofits have been doing much of the work in these developing countries and designing the technology, corporations such as Phillips, BP, Bosch Siemens and others are now becoming involved. She those companies have a great deal of development experience that nonprofits lack.
Doroski said the switch to clean stoves, which may cost $5, has other benefits besides reducing indoor air pollution. If biomass fuels are burned more efficiently or eliminated completely, then deforestation is greatly reduced. If women and children do not have to collect as much fuel to burn, then that frees them for other pursuits, such as education. And education, Doroski said, is something that parents worldwide seems to want for their children.
"The first thing they want to do with money is put it into the education of their children," she said. "A real solution to poverty is education."
The primary goal, however, is to improve health worldwide. Doroski believes a healthier world is better for everyone and that preventive measures cost much less than treatment.
When the PCIA was launched in 2002, there were seven partners. Today, there are more than 170 partners in more than 70 countries. Partners include governments, academic institutions, and nonprofits. Over 700 small businesses are producing and marketing better household technologies.
Most importantly, PCIA had distributed over 1.4 million clean stoves, which improved the indoor air quality for 7.4 million people. For those reasons, Doroski and Mitchell were selected from over 650 nomi-nees for the award.
"It was nice to be recognized ," said Doroski of winning the Service to America Medal. But the true reward is helping other people.
"We're always looking for ways to raise awareness about the issue," she said. "It was a great opportunity to spread the word.
"I hope that we can continue to grow the partnership. We want to reach hunrdeds of millions of people."
Given their past success, there is no reason to believe Doroski and her colleagues cannot do just that.