Is gas stove bad for health?

Chefs love their gadgets, from countertop slow cookers to instant-read thermometers. Now there’s growing interest in magnetic induction cooktops – surfaces that cook much faster than traditional stoves, without igniting a flame or heating an electric coil. Some of that attention is long overdue: induction has long been popular in Europe and Asia and is more energy-efficient than traditional stoves. However, recent studies have also raised concerns about indoor air emissions from gas stoves.

Academic researchers and government agencies such as the California Air Resources Board have reported that gas stoves can emit hazardous air pollutants while they are operating and even when they are off.

As an environmental health researcher studying housing and indoor air, I have participated in studies that measured indoor air pollution and built models to predict how indoor sources would contribute to air pollution in different house types. Here’s a perspective on how gas stoves can contribute to indoor air pollution and whether you should consider moving away from gas.

effects on breathing

One of the main air pollutants commonly associated with the use of gas stoves is nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, which is a by-product of fuel combustion. Nitrogen dioxide exposures in households have been linked to more severe asthma and increased use of rescue inhalers in children. This gas can also affect asthmatic adults and contributes to both the development and worsening of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Nitrogen dioxide in homes comes from both outdoor air entering indoor spaces and from indoor sources. Road traffic is the most significant outdoor source; Not surprisingly, values ​​are higher near major thoroughfares. Gas stoves are often the main source indoors, with a larger contribution from large burners that run longer.

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The gas industry position is that gas stoves are a minor source of indoor air pollutants. This is true for some households, especially for exposures averaged over months or years.

But there are many homes where gas stoves contribute more to indoor nitrogen dioxide levels than pollution from outdoor sources, particularly during short-term “peak loads” during cooking time. For example, a study in Southern California showed that about half of households exceeded a health standard based on peak hour nitrogen dioxide concentration, almost entirely due to indoor emissions.

How can a gas stove do more to draw your attention than a highway full of vehicles? The answer is that outdoor pollution is spread over a large area, while indoor pollution is concentrated in a small space.

How much indoor air pollution you get from a gas stove depends on the structure of your home, which means that indoor NO2 exposure is higher for some people than others. People who live in larger homes, have working range hoods that vent to the outside, and generally have well-ventilated homes are less exposed than people in smaller homes with poorer ventilation.

But even larger homes can be affected by using a gas stove, especially since the air in the kitchen doesn’t immediately mix with the cleaner air elsewhere in the home. Using a range hood while cooking or other ventilation strategies such as opening kitchen windows can drastically lower concentrations.

Dangerous air pollutants

Nitrogen dioxide isn’t the only pollutant of concern from gas stoves. Some pollutions with potential impacts on human health and the Earth’s climate occur when furnaces are not even running.

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A 2022 study estimates that unused US gas stoves emit methane — a colorless, odorless gas that is the main component of natural gas — at a rate that traps as much heat in the atmosphere as about 400,000 cars.

Some of these leaks can go undetected. Although gas suppliers add an odorant to natural gas to ensure people smell leaks before there is a risk of explosion, the odor may not be strong enough for local residents to notice small leaks.

Some people also have a much stronger sense of smell than others. In particular, those who have lost their sense of smell – whether from Covid-19 or other causes – cannot smell even large leaks. A recent study found that 5 percent of homes had leaks that owners failed to detect and were large enough to be repaired.

The same study showed that natural gas leaks contained several dangerous air pollutants, including benzene, a carcinogen. While measured benzene concentrations did not reach levels of health concern, the presence of these hazardous air pollutants in homes with significant leaks and poor ventilation could be problematic.

reasons to switch

So if you live in a house with a gas stove, what should you do and when should you be concerned? First, do what you can to improve ventilation, such as running a range hood that vents outside and opening kitchen windows while cooking. This will help, but it won’t eliminate exposure, especially for household members who are in the kitchen while cooking is in progress.

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If you live in a smaller home or one with a smaller enclosed kitchen and someone in your home has a respiratory condition such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, exposure can still be a concern even with good ventilation. Replacing a gas stove with one using magnetic induction would eliminate this burden while providing climate benefits.

Given their importance in slowing climate change, there are several incentive schemes to support the transition from gas stoves. For example, the recently signed 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, which includes many provisions to combat climate change, offers rebates for the purchase of high-efficiency electrical appliances such as stoves.

Dozens of US cities have enacted or are considering regulations that would ban natural gas connections in new homes after certain dates to speed the transition away from fossil fuels. At the same time, at least 20 states have enacted laws or regulations prohibiting natural gas bans.

Moving away from gas stoves is especially important when investing in energy efficiency measures at home, whether to use incentives to reduce energy bills or reduce your carbon footprint. Some weathering steps can reduce air leakage to the outside, which in turn can increase indoor air pollution levels if occupants don’t also improve kitchen ventilation.

In my view, the opportunity to have cleaner air in your home can be a powerful motivator to make the switch, even if you’re not striving to reduce your carbon footprint — or are just looking for ways to cook pasta faster.

-The conversation

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