Is your gas stove bad for your health?

Is your gas stove bad for your health?

(The Conversation is an independent, non-profit source for news, analysis, and commentary from academic experts.)

(Conversation) Chefs love their tools, from slow cookers to instant-read thermometers. Now, there is a growing interest in magnetic induction hobs – surfaces that cook much faster than conventional stoves, without igniting a flame or heating an electric coil.

Some of that attention has come late: induction has long been popular in Europe and Asia, and is more energy-efficient than standard stoves. But recent studies have also raised concerns about indoor air emissions from gas stoves.

Academic researchers and agencies such as the California Air Resources Board have reported that gas stoves can release dangerous air pollutants while they are on, and even when they are turned off.

As an environmental health researcher working in housing and indoor air, I have been involved in home air pollution measurement studies and building models to predict how indoor sources contribute to air pollution in different types of homes. Here are some perspectives on how gas stoves contribute to indoor air pollution, and whether you should consider staying away from gas.

Respiratory effects

One of the major air pollutants commonly associated with the use of gas stoves is nitrogen dioxide, or NO₂, a byproduct of fuel combustion. Exposure to nitrogen dioxide in homes has been associated with children developing severe asthma and increased use of rescue inhalers. This gas can also affect adults with asthma, and contribute to both the development and exacerbation of COPD.

Nitrogen dioxide in homes comes from outside air that seeps in and from indoor sources. Road traffic is the most important external source; Not surprisingly, levels are higher near major roads. Gas stoves are often the most important indoor source, with a greater contribution than larger stoves that run longer.

The position of the gas industry is that gas stoves are a secondary source of indoor air pollutants. This is true in some homes, especially with regard to average exposure over months or years.

But there are many homes where gas stoves contribute more to indoor nitrogen dioxide levels than pollution from external sources, especially for short-term “peak” exposure during cooking time. For example, a study in Southern California showed that about half of homes exceeded the health standard based on the highest hourly nitrogen dioxide concentrations, roughly due to indoor emissions.

How can a single gas stove contribute more to your exposure than an entire highway full of vehicles? The answer is that external pollution is spread over a large area, while internal pollution is concentrated in a small area.

The amount of indoor pollution you get from a gas stove is affected by the structure of your home, which means that indoor environmental exposure to nitrogen oxide is higher for some people than for others. People who live in larger homes with outdoor hoods and have well-ventilated homes will generally have less exposure than those who live in smaller homes with less ventilation.

But even large homes can be affected by the use of a gas stove, especially since the air in the kitchen does not immediately mix with the clean air elsewhere in the house. Using a range hood when cooking, or other ventilation strategies such as opening kitchen windows, can lower concentrations significantly.

Methane and dangerous air pollutants

Nitrogen dioxide isn’t the only pollutant of concern from gas stoves. Some pollution that has potential effects on human health and the Earth’s climate occurs when stoves are not working.

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

Some of these leaks may not be detected. Although gas distributors add an odor to natural gas to ensure people can smell the leak before there is a danger of an explosion, the smell may not be strong enough for residents to notice small leaks.

Some people also have a stronger sense of smell than others. In particular, those who have lost their sense of smell — whether from COVID-19 or other causes — may not even smell big leaks. One recent study found that 5% of homes had leaks undetected by their owners, which were large enough to require repair.

This same study showed that leaked natural gas contained several dangerous air pollutants, including benzene, a carcinogen. While the measured concentrations of benzene have not reached alarming health thresholds, the presence of these hazardous air pollutants may be a problem in homes with large leaks and poor ventilation.

Reasons to switch: health and climate

So, if you live in a house with a gas stove, what should you do and when should you worry? First, do what you can to improve ventilation, such as turning on the range hood that accesses the fresh air and opening the kitchen windows while cooking. This will help, but will not eliminate exposure, especially to family members who are in the kitchen while cooking.

If you live in a smaller home or a home with a closed kitchenette, and if someone in your home has a respiratory illness such as asthma or COPD, exposure may still be worrying even with good ventilation. Replacing a gas stove with one that uses magnetic induction will eliminate this exposure while also providing climate benefits.

There are many incentive programs to support gas stove changes, given their importance in slowing climate change. For example, the recently signed Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which includes several provisions to tackle climate change, offers rebates on the purchase of high-efficiency electrical appliances such as stoves.

Dozens of US cities have adopted or are considering regulations banning natural gas hookups in new homes after set dates to speed the transition away from fossil fuels. At the same time, at least 20 countries have adopted laws or regulations prohibiting the ban on natural gas.

Staying away from gas stoves is especially important if you’re investing in home energy efficiency measures, whether you’re doing it to take advantage of incentives, reduce energy costs, or reduce your carbon footprint. Some weathering steps can reduce air intrusion to the outside, which in turn can increase indoor air pollution concentrations if residents do not also improve kitchen ventilation.

In my view, even if you’re not motivated to reduce your carbon footprint—or you’re just looking for ways to cook pasta faster—the chance of getting cleaner air inside your home can be a strong incentive to make the switch.

This article has been republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/is-your-gas-stove-bad-for-your-health-186454.

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