Do you have a gas stove? How to reduce pollution that can harm health

Gas stoves affect the quality of the air inside and outside your home, as they circulate pollutants that increase the risk of asthma and other diseases.

A gas stove burner with blue and yellowish flames;  another burner in the background is blurred

In previous blog posts, I have discussed the health harms of outdoor air pollution and how to reduce health risks by reducing your exposure. Increasing evidence suggests we should also think about indoor air quality, and research points to potential harm from gas stoves.

If you have a gas stove, like many people, understanding the problems and taking some steps can help protect your home. These steps can also help improve outdoor air quality.

Gas stoves are linked to childhood asthma

Cooking on gas stoves creates nitrogen dioxide and releases additional tiny particles into the air known as PM2.5, which are irritating to the lungs. Nitrogen dioxide has been linked to childhood asthma. During 2019 alone, it was estimated that nearly two million cases worldwide of new childhood asthma cases were due to nitrogen dioxide pollution.

Children who live in homes that use gas stoves for cooking are 42% more likely to have asthma, according to an analysis of observational research. While observational studies cannot prove that cooking with gas is the direct cause of asthma, the data also shows that the higher the level of nitrogen dioxide, the more severe the asthma symptoms in children and adults.

Cooking and baking with gas appliances can generate high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide. A recent study published by Stanford researchers calculated that the emission of nitrogen dioxide from certain gas burners or ovens exceeded the standard set for outdoors by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) within a few minutes. Currently, the EPA has not set any standards for safe indoor levels.

Organizations like the Massachusetts Medical Society and the American Medical Association are trying to make doctors and the public aware of these risks. However, much of this information continues to surprise many.

Gas stoves leak even when turned off

The Stanford study tested gas stoves in 53 homes. All stoves leaked methane gas, even when turned off. These leaks are equivalent to 76% of its total methane gas emissions. Both methane and nitrogen dioxide contribute to air pollution by forming ground-level ozone and smog. Methane is also a major greenhouse gas and worsens climate change. Notably, in this study, methane and nitrogen dioxide emissions were not related to the age or price of the gas stove.

Toxic chemicals in stoves and gas pipes

What’s more, a study from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and PSE Healthy Energy showed that gas appliances also introduce other toxic chemicals into homes. The researchers collected unburned gas from stoves and construction pipes in the Boston metropolitan area. In their analysis, they identified 21 different hazardous air pollutants known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). For example, benzene, hexane, and toluene were present in almost all gas samples tested. Exposure to some VOCs increases the risks of asthma, cancer, and other diseases.

How can you protect the health of the home if you have a gas stove?

You can take steps to reduce the health risks of indoor pollution, including these.

Ventilate your kitchen when you cook

  • Open your windows while you cook.
  • Use exhaust fans that move air outside. Although this will contribute to outside contamination, it reduces exposure to unhealthy air at higher concentrations in confined spaces. (Ductless fans that recirculate fumes through filters don’t work as well.)

Use air purifiers

Although they don’t remove all pollutants, air purifiers can improve indoor air quality. Choose an air purifier that has a high Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) that matches the size of your room. Air purifiers are easy to move, so you can keep them near the kitchen during the day and move them to the bedroom when you sleep. Remember to replace the filters when they are dirty.

Switch to cooking appliances

Cost, clutter, and environmental concerns can guide your choices. The production of new appliances consumes natural resources, and old appliances often end up in landfills. Here are some options to consider:

  • Use an electric kettle instead of boiling water on the stove.
  • Cook with an electric slow cooker, pressure cooker, rice cooker, toaster oven, or microwave.
  • Replace a gas stove with an electric stove. Check out these tips to make this switch and to recycle appliances. If you’re a Massachusetts resident, you may qualify for a $500 Mass Save rebate on a gas-to-induction stove trade-in this year. (Other states may offer similar incentives.)

Making the switch would also help the environment because electrical appliances don’t rely on methane gas, but can instead use clean, renewable energy sources. And ultimately, taking action to address climate change means taking action for a healthier planet and a healthier person.

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