Why gas stoves can be hazardous to your health (even when turned off)

Exposure to the chemical compounds released by these stoves has been linked to severe cases of asthma, increased use of inhalers in children and lung disease. If you want to change yours, there are programs and incentives to do so.

Cooking enthusiasts always yearn for the latest gadgets or tools, from automatic thermometers to slow cookers.

Now there is growing interest in magnetic induction stoves, which are faster than traditional ones and do not require lighting a flame or heating an electric coil.

Although the attention comes late - in Europe and Asia magnetic induction stoves are already popular for saving more energy - it coincides with recent studies that have raised concerns about emissions from gas stoves.

Academics and agencies such as the California Air Resources Board have warned that they release dangerous air pollutants when they are turned on, and even if they are turned off.

As an environmental health researcher who studies home and indoor air, I have participated in analyses to measure pollution in homes and come up with models to predict the impact of each source, depending on the type of construction.

Here are some facts about how gas stoves pollute the air in your home and whether or not you should stop using them.

Respiratory damage

One of the main air pollutants associated with gas stoves is nitrogen dioxide, or NO₂ -a byproduct of gasoline combustion.

Exposure to this chemical compound has been linked to severe cases of asthma and increased use of inhalers in children. It also affects adults with asthma and contributes to the development and exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

In homes, nitrogen dioxide can infiltrate from both outdoor air and indoor sources. Vehicle traffic is the most important external source and levels are highest near major roads. Gas stoves are the most important indoor source, especially if large burners are in operation for long periods of time.

The gas industry claims that cookstoves are a minimal source of pollution. This is true for some homes, taking into account the average exposure over months or years, but there are others where they contribute more than outdoor sources, especially when there are short-term spikes in exposure.

A study in Southern California showed that, for indoor emissions, nearly half of homes exceed a health standard based on the highest hourly concentration of nitrogen dioxide.

How can a stove pollute more than a freeway full of vehicles? Outdoor pollution is dispersed over a large area, while indoor pollution is concentrated in a small space.

Housing structure also influences and exposure to NO₂ is greater for some people than others. Those who live in large, better ventilated houses or with exhaust fans will be less exposed than those who live in small, poorly ventilated places.

If kitchen air is not mixed with clean air, it can become contaminated regardless of the size of the house. So using an exhaust fan or other ventilation strategies, such as opening windows, can drastically reduce concentrations.

Methane and Other Hazardous Air Pollutants
Nitrogen dioxide is not the only dangerous compound from gas stoves. Another part of the pollution, with effects on people's health and the planet's climate, occurs when stoves are not even turned on.

A 2022 study estimated that in the United States, unused gas stoves emit methane - a colorless, odorless gas that is the main component of natural gas - at a level that traps as much heat in the atmosphere as about 400,000 automobiles.

Some leaks go unnoticed, although odor is added to natural gas to make sure people detect them before there is a risk of explosion, it may not be strong enough to be noticed when they are very small.

In addition, certain people have a stronger sense of smell than others. In particular, those who have lost it-whether from COVID-19 or other causes-may not detect them.

A recent study found that 5% of homes had leaks that homeowners had not identified and that were significant enough to require repairs.

That investigation showed that these natural gas leaks contained several hazardous air pollutants, including benzene, a carcinogen. Although its concentration did not reach levels of health concern, its presence in the air could be problematic in homes with significant leaks and poor ventilation.

Health and climate

If your home has a gas stove, what should you do and when should you be concerned?

First, improve ventilation. You can use an exhaust fan and open windows while cooking. This will help, but it will not eliminate exposure, especially for those in the space.

If you live in a small, enclosed kitchen or if someone in your family has asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, it can still be dangerous even with good ventilation.

Switching from a gas stove to one that uses magnetic induction would eliminate this exposure, while helping the environment.

There are incentive programs to support you. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which includes several provisions to address this issue, offers rebates for the purchase of high-efficiency appliances, such as stoves.

Dozens of cities in the United States have adopted or are considering rules that, after certain dates, prohibit natural gas hookups in new homes to accelerate the phase-out of fossil fuels. At least 20 states have passed laws or regulations along these lines.

Saying goodbye to gas stoves is important if you are investing in changes for energy efficiency in your home, whether to take advantage of incentives, lower costs or decrease your carbon footprint.

Some weatherization measures reduce air leakage to the outdoors, and failure to also improve kitchen ventilation can increase indoor pollution concentrations.

Even if you don't want to reduce your carbon footprint and are just looking to cook pasta faster, the opportunity for cleaner indoor air can be a strong motivation to make the switch.

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