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Why Gas Stoves Are a Health Hazard

GAS STOVES PRODUCE INDOOR AIR POLLUTION

When natural gas is burned in stoves it releases the following health harming pollutants into household air:

  • PM 2.5: an air pollutant that is associated with asthma, COPD exacerbations, heart attack, stroke and cancer
  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2): an air pollutant and respiratory irritant that according to EPA research is associated with asthma exacerbation in children and heart disease, diabetes, negative birth outcomes, premature death and cancer in adults
  • Carbon monoxide (CO): an asphyxiant gas that can result in serious health effects, like poisoning; even low level exposure is associated with heart disease.

In addition, even when the stove isn’t turned on, gas stoves can leak many other health harming compounds, like benzene, a chemical linked to cancer and present in the second hand smoke from tobacco.

“You can achieve the same level of benzene just from having a stove that’s off in your house as you’d expect to see …in a house with a smoker in it.”

–Seth Shonkoff, the executive director of PSE Healthy Energy and associate researcher at the University of California, Berkeley

A Stanford study that looked at 53 homes with gas cooking stoves found that 99% of the stoves leaked methane gas and benzene. Leakage of methane was not related to the age or the price of the gas stove.

 

USING NATURAL GAS TO COOK IS ASSOCIATED WITH PEDIATRIC ASTHMA

A robust body of research has been quietly accumulating for more than 40 years pointing to the connection between household air pollution from gas stoves and asthma in children. When cooking with gas without ventilation, indoor nitrogen dioxide can quickly, within minutes, reach levels that exceed limits set for outdoor air by the EPA (the EPA does not issue indoor air quality guidelines).

Nitrogen dioxide from gas stoves has been shown to worsen asthma symptoms in children in a dose-response manner: the higher the level of the air pollutant, the worse the asthma symptoms. In 2016, the EPA determined that nitrogen dioxide not only can exacerbate existing asthma symptoms but likely leads to the development of asthma also.

 

GAS STOVES ARE THE MOST COMMON CHILDHOOD ASTHMA TRIGGER IN THE STATE OF MASSACHUSETTS

According to a 2017 study from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, gas stove use is the most commonly identified trigger of asthma  exacerbations in children. According to a recent study from the Rocky Mountain Institute, 15% of childhood asthma in Massachusetts is attributable to gas stove use.  Over half of Massachusetts households use a gas stove to cook.

The burden of asthma is significant in Massachusetts, so this risk factor is an important one for clinicians to be aware of.  Children, especially infants and toddlers, often spend a great deal of time indoors, particularly in kitchens. Due to their small size, children are particularly vulnerable to indoor air pollution.

“Many physicians and even health departments do not know about the association between natural gas cooking and pediatric asthma,” states T. Stephen Jones, MD, GBPSR member and retired epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A meta-analysis looking at the association between gas stoves and childhood asthma found children in homes with gas stoves have a 42 percent increased risk of experiencing asthma symptoms (current asthma), a 24 percent increased risk of ever being diagnosed with asthma by a doctor (lifetime asthma), and an overall 32 percent increased risk of both current and lifetime asthma.

 

AN APPLIANCE WITH BIG HEALTH COSTS AND LARGE HEALTH INEQUITIES

According to this 2018 study, asthma costs the US $82 billion a year in medical expenses, missed work and school days, and deaths. All of these are experienced disproportionately by the most vulnerable populations.

Lower-income households tend to have more people living together in a smaller space with less ventilation. That puts them at greater risk for unsafe exposure to all of the pollutants released by gas stoves, including PM 2.5, CO, and NO2. Some low-income households also use gas stoves as a source of heat, which puts them at further risk.

In addition, children in these households already suffer asthma at higher rates than the national average because they also tend to live in areas with high levels of outdoor air pollution (like roads and industrial facilities)—which makes them even more vulnerable to the negative health effects of indoor air pollution.

 

HOW TO PROTECT THE HEALTH OF YOUR HOUSEHOLD IF YOU USE A GAS STOVE TO COOK

These simple actions may help reduce the health risks of gas stoves:

  • Adequate ventilation. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends using exhaust fans that ventilate to the outdoors while cooking.
  • Using a HEPA air purifier with a carbon filter
  • When it is time to replace a gas stove, select an electric or induction stove instead of gas.

Note:  fans must ventilate to the outside to be effective; fans that merely recirculate air around the kitchen are not effective in reducing the amount of pollutants in the air. If your fan doesn’t ventilate to the outside–open a window.

Stoves are the only major indoor gas appliance not required to be vented outdoors. When it comes to gas furnaces, dryers, and water heaters, regulators have acknowledged the danger of indoor pollution and require a vent leading from the appliance outside.

There are, of course, many triggers for asthma, including viral infections, cold temperatures, and allergens. But indoor emissions caused by burning gas is one risk factor that patients have the power to modify– provided they are made aware of the connection.

 

LEAKING METHANE HAS MAJOR CLIMATE IMPACTS

The environmental impact of gas stoves is not limited to the indoor air quality adverse impacts for human health; it also creates significant outdoor air quality issues due to air pollution all along the production cycle due to the atmospheric impact of leaking methane.  Methane is an important greenhouse gas – about 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2 over a 100 year time horizon and about 80 times more potent over a 25 year time horizon–and thus is a significant driver of climate change.

Methane leaking from natural gas-burning stoves inside U.S. homes has a climate impact comparable to the carbon dioxide emissions from about 500,000 gasoline-powered cars–so leaking methane can have major climate change impacts.

Impact of air pollution on climate change. Both methane and nitrogen dioxide create air pollution by a chemical reaction with heat and sunlight to form ground-level ozone (also known as smog). The resulting air pollution not only drives climate change, but the resulting climate change increases air pollution in a vicious cycle that has very negative consequences for human health, summarized in this three hour webinar co-sponsored by GBPSR.

 

RESOURCES

 

Public health concerns around indoor air pollution from gas stoves

Are gas stoves really dangerous? What we know about the science
The Guardian

Have a gas stove? How to reduce pollution that may harm health
Harvard Medical School

Compilation of Published PM2.5 Emission Rates for Cooking, Candles and Incense for Use in Modeling of Exposures in Residences.
Department of Energy

Connection Between Natural Gas Stoves and Pediatric Asthma
This article in the Massachusetts Medical Society’s Vital Signs was written to raise clinician and public awareness regarding health risks of gas stoves. The MMS, American Medical Association and the APHA have all approved policy to educate the public regarding the negative health risks of cooking with gas.

Gas cooking is associated with worsening asthma in kids. But proper ventilation helps
The Conversation

Government report: Asthma among Children In Massachusetts
Massachusetts Department of Public Health
“About 54.3% children aged 18 and younger with asthma reported the trigger in their homes was the presence of gas used for cooking.”

Your gas stove is dangerous to your health
CommonWealth Magazine

Gruenwald, T.; Seals, B.A.; Knibbs, L.D.; Hosgood, H.D., III. Population Attributable Fraction of Gas Stoves and Childhood Asthma in the United States. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2023.

Gas stoves can generate unsafe levels of indoor air pollution
Vox

Gas Stoves: Health and Air Quality Impacts and Solutions
Rocky Mountain Institute

Cooking With Gas, Household Air Pollution, and Asthma: Little Recognized Risk for Children
National Environmental Health Association

 

Methane leaks from stoves:

Lebel, Finnegan et al. Methane and NOx Emissions from Natural Gas Stoves, Cooktops, and Ovens in Residential Homes. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2022, 56, 4, 2529–2539

Did I Turn Off the Stove? Yes, but Maybe Not the Gas
New York Times

 

Carbon monoxide poisoning from gas stoves:

Gas stoves recalled due to carbon monoxide poisoning risk
WPRI

 

Alternatives to gas: electric and induction stoves

What to Know About Gas Stove Alternatives
New York Times

How did gas stoves ignite a culture war in the US?
The Guardian