NPR

They Call Her 'Queen Of Dung' — And She Doesn't Mind

Millions of people burn animal dung for heating and cooking. To find out if the smoke can cause lung issues, researcher Claire McCarthy used some unorthodox methods.
Researcher Claire McCarthy, also known as the "queen of dung," sits on a blanket with images of DNA, test tubes and beakers. Source: Heather Kim/NPR

Early one morning in the spring of 2017, Claire McCarthy started her day as many don't: rolling dried rhinoceros dung into cigarettes and packing them into a machine that smoked them.

Although it might seem bizarre, McCarthy's purpose was serious: She wanted to know what happens when people breathe in dung smoke.

Dung smoke is no joke. Animal dung is used by millions globally for heating and cooking.

It's a dangerous practice. Burning biomass fuels (including animal dung as well as wood, charcoal, and plant matter) generates indoor air pollution, which caused 4 million deaths worldwide in 2012 according to the World Health Organization. Like cigarette smoke, biomass

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