Is your gas stove harmful to your health?

Cooks love their gadgets, from countertop slow cookers to instant-read thermometers. There is now a growing interest in magnetic induction cooktops – surfaces that cook much faster than conventional stoves without lighting a flame or heating an electric coil.

Some of this attention is overdue: 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 operating and even when they are turned off.

As an environmental health researcher working on housing and indoor air, I participated in studies that measured air pollution in homes and built models to predict how indoor sources would contribute to air pollution in different types of homes . Here are some perspectives on how gas stoves can contribute to indoor air pollution and whether you should consider switching to gas.

Natural gas has long been touted as a clean fuel, but research into its effects on health and the environment has called that idea into question.

Respiratory effects

One of the main air pollutants often associated with the use of gas stoves is nitrogen dioxide, or NO₂, which is a byproduct of burning fuel. Exposure to nitrogen dioxide in homes is associated with more severe asthma and increased use of rescue inhalers in children. This gas can also affect adults with asthma and contributes to both the development and exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Nitrogen dioxide in homes comes from both outdoor air entering indoors and indoor sources. Road traffic is the most significant external source; not surprisingly, levels are higher near major roads. Gas stoves are often the most significant indoor source, with a greater contribution from large burners that run longer.

The position of the gas industry is that gas stoves are a small source of indoor air pollutants. This is true in some homes, 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 outside sources, especially for short-term “peak” exposures during cooking. For example, a study in Southern California showed that about half of the homes exceeded the health standard based on the highest hourly concentration of nitrogen dioxide, almost entirely due to indoor emissions.

How can a gas stove contribute more to your exposure than an entire 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 pollution you get from a gas stove is affected by the structure of your home, meaning indoor exposure to NO₂ is higher for some people than others. People who live in larger homes, have working hoods that vent to the outside, and have well-ventilated homes in general will be less exposed than those in smaller homes with poorer ventilation.

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

Ventilation is an essential tool for improving air quality in homes.

Methane and hazardous air pollutants

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

A 2022 study estimated that unused gas stoves in the U.S. 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 cars.

Some of these leaks may go undetected. Although gas distributors add an odorant to natural gas to ensure that people will smell leaks before there is a risk of an explosion, the smell may not be strong enough for 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—may not even sense major leaks. A recent study found that 5% of homes have leaks that owners haven’t discovered that are large enough to require repair.

The same study showed that leaking natural gas contains numerous dangerous air pollutants, including the cancer-causing agent benzene. Although measured benzene concentrations do not reach thresholds of health concern, the presence of these hazardous air pollutants can be problematic in homes with significant leaks and poor ventilation.

Reasons for switching: Health and climate

So if you live in a home with a gas stove, what should you do and when should you worry? First, do what you can to improve ventilation by running a range hood that vents outdoors and opening kitchen windows while cooking. This will help but not eliminate exposures, especially for household members who are in the kitchen while cooking is taking place.

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

Numerous incentive programs exist to support the replacement of gas stoves, given their importance in slowing climate change. For example, the recently signed Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which includes many provisions to address climate change, offers rebates for the purchase of high-efficiency electrical appliances such as stoves.

Dozens of U.S. cities have passed or are considering ordinances that ban natural gas connections to new homes after certain dates to speed the transition away from fossil fuels. At the same time, at least 20 states have passed laws or regulations that prohibit natural gas bans.

Removing gas stoves is especially important if you’re investing in home energy efficiency measures, whether you’re doing it to take advantage of incentives, lower your energy costs or reduce your carbon footprint. Some weatherization steps can reduce outdoor air leakage, which in turn can increase indoor air pollution concentrations if occupants do not also improve kitchen ventilation.

In my opinion, even if you’re not aiming to reduce your carbon footprint—or you’re just looking for ways to cook pasta faster—being able to have cleaner air in your home can be a strong motivator to make the switch.

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