Is your gas stove bad for your health?


Is your gas stove bad for your health?

Cooks love their gadgets, from countertop slow cookers to instant-read thermometers. Now, there’s increasing interest in magnetic induction cooktops – surfaces that cook much faster than conventional stoves, without igniting a flame or heating an electric coil.

Some of this attention is overdue: Induction has long been popular in Europe and Asia, and it 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 hazardous air pollutants while they’re operating, and even when they’re turned off.

As an environmental health researcher who does work on housing and indoor air, I have participated in studies that measured air pollution in homes and built models to predict how indoor sources would contribute to air pollution in different home types. Here is some perspective on how gas stoves can contribute to indoor air pollution, and whether you should consider shifting away from gas.

Respiratory effects

One of the main air pollutants commonly associated with using gas stoves is nitrogen dioxide, or NO₂, which is a byproduct of fuel combustion. Nitrogen dioxide exposures in homes have been associated with more severe asthma and increased use of rescue inhalers in children. This gas can also affect asthmatic adults, and it contributes to both the development and exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Nitrogen dioxide in homes comes both from outdoor air that infiltrates indoors and from indoor sources. Road traffic is the most significant outdoor source; unsurprisingly, levels are higher close to major roadways. Gas stoves often are the most substantial indoor source, with a greater contribution from large burners that run longer.

The gas industry’s position is that gas stoves are a minor source of indoor air pollutants. This is true in some homes, especially with respect to exposures averaged over months or years.

But there are many homes in which gas stoves contribute more to indoor nitrogen dioxide levels than pollution from outdoor sources does, especially for short-term “peak” exposures during cooking time. For example, a study in Southern California showed that around half of homes exceeded a health standard based on the highest hour of nitrogen dioxide concentrations, almost entirely because of indoor emissions.

How can one gas stove contribute more to your exposure than an entire highway full of vehicles? The answer is that outdoor pollution disperses over a large area, while indoor pollution concentrates in a small space.

How much indoor pollution you get from a gas stove is affected by the structure of your home, which means that indoor environmental exposures to NO₂ are higher for some people than for others. People who live in larger homes, have working range hoods that vent to the outdoors 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 gas stove usage, especially since the air in the kitchen does not immediately mix with cleaner air elsewhere in the home. Using a range hood when cooking, or other ventilation strategies such as opening kitchen windows, can bring down concentrations dramatically.


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