Gas stoves and your health: What you need to know to keep your family safe, healthy

The kitchen appliance has been all over the news since CPSC Commissioner Richard Trumka, Jr. discussed the cons of these appliances

Kids' health

Ivan Radic | CC-BY-2.0

You may have noticed a lot of news stories about gas stoves lately. The flurry of news coverage began with a report about a potential “gas stoves ban” under consideration from regulators at the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Despite how many are characterizing this story, that’s one myth that can be busted right away. There is no proposed federal ban on gas stoves. Here’s what the CPSC is actually doing, according the Chair of the Commission, Alex Hoehn-Saric:

“CPSC is researching gas emissions in stoves and exploring new ways to address health risks.  CPSC also is actively engaged in strengthening voluntary safety standards for gas stoves.  And later this spring, we will be asking the public to provide us with information about gas stove emissions and potential solutions for reducing any associated risks.  This is part of our product safety mission – learning about hazards and working to make products safer.” 

One of the other members of the commission, Richard Trumka, Jr., said of the process: “This is a hidden hazard. Any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”

So is the CPSC considering a ban on gas stoves? No. Snopes even rated this claim as false. But is the CPSC doing its job (reviewing the research and data to determine the risk and looking at the available options to make the product safer)? Yes. And that’s a good thing.

With this issue getting some much attention, here are the facts you need to know to keep your family safe and healthy:

1. Gas stove pollution is putting our health at risk

What is the problem with gas stoves anyway?

The wave of media attention comes on the heels of yet another peer-reviewed study showing the link between gas stoves and health harms. Researchers at RMI, University of Sydney and the Albert Einstein School of Medicine found that gas stoves are responsible for more than 12% of — or one in eight — childhood asthma cases nationwide. Researchers found gas stoves pose a similar asthma risk to children as secondhand smoke exposure.

This is the latest in nearly 50 years of studies showing that gas stoves are bad for our health. Simply using a gas stove releases significant nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution indoors at concentrations that can exceed outdoor air quality standards. Burning methane gas in our stoves also releases carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and particulate matter into the air.

Recent studies suggest that even when gas stoves are off, they may also pollute our air. A study from Boston found 21 hazardous air pollutants – including benzene – leaking into homes from unburned gas. A similar study conducted in California kitchens found hazardous air pollutants accumulating in homes through leaking gas, including benzene. Benzene is a known carcinogen linked to blood disorders and leukemia. Researchers found benzene concentrations above California’s recommended exposure limit – levels comparable to living with a smoker.  

The CPSC’s investigation into gas stoves isn’t coming out of nowhere. Nearly 40 years ago, amid a public debate about indoor air pollution, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) if it should be concerned about the impact of NO2 emitted from gas stoves. The EPA responded in 1986 that the pollutant could have harmful health effects, and the CPSC should investigate the concentrations of NO2 in America’s kitchens. But there has been no action by either agency as of yet, and in a recent survey, we found that consumers are not getting the information they need to protect themselves and their families when shopping for stoves.

2. Doesn’t all cooking – no matter the type of stove – pollute the air?

You may have seen this argument among some of the coverage – it’s one of the gas industry’s favorite go-tos. All cooking produces some level of particulate matter, but using fossil-fuel powered stoves results in levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution 50% – 400% higher than in homes with electric stoves. This nitrogen dioxide, which is linked with asthma risk, comes only when you burn a fossil fuel. The gas burned in gas stoves also contains other toxic chemicals that leak into homes around the clock. 

Electric and induction stoves do not rely on combustion and therefore, produce no toxic chemicals inside the home. 

3. How to protect your family

If you have a gas stove, there are ways you can reduce your exposure to pollution. Here are some tips: 

Use proper ventilation.

Proper ventilation is important while using any type of stove, but it’s absolutely essential if your stove is fueled by gas. The best kind of ventilation comes from a ducted range hood, installed above the stove to catch air and smoke as it rises and move the polluted air outside the home. Always use your range hood for the entire duration of stove use— turn it on when you start cooking and don’t turn it off until you’re done.

Adopt some quick fix solutions to help reduce your exposure.

If you have a gas stove and don’t own a range hood, you should seriously consider purchasing one. However, if you don’t have one and can’t get one in the near future, or if you rent your home, you can take other measures to improve indoor air quality:

  • Open up some windows to create a draft.
  • If you have a window fan, run it on exhaust every time you cook.
  • Consider purchasing a carbon monoxide alarm so you can keep track of pollution levels while cooking and catch any gas leaks.
  • Buy a portable HEPA air purifier with a carbon filter to remove some of the particulate matter produced during cooking.

Consider going electric.

Ultimately, the healthiest option is to use an electric alternative to gas. The next time you are in the market for a stove or considering kitchen upgrades, it would be wise to consider electric or induction options.

Even if you’re not ready to fully make the switch, there are relatively low-cost portable induction cooktops that can be used on your countertop and plugged into a normal outlet. They can be used instead of a normal gas range for anything you would usually cook on your stovetop. This can give you a chance to try out the technology while also giving you some extra cooking capacity on a day when you’re going to need it. Without combusting methane gas to ignite the blue flame, you can cook your mashed potatoes, your cranberry sauce or whatever your favorite side dish might be.

If you are considering switching to electric or induction cooking, you may be eligible for new rebates or tax credits through the Inflation Reduction Act.

4. What is induction cooking, anyway?

Induction cooktops use magnetism to heat metal cookware. When you turn an induction stove or cooktop on, electric currents underneath the smooth cooking surface create a magnetic current within the cookware being used. This direct transfer of energy results in instant, efficient heating; in fact, induction cooktops heat up faster than both gas and traditional electric coil cooktops, with some models boiling a pot of water in just 2 minutes. Induction also results in unbeatable and precise control and consistent levels of heat, as the appliance responds immediately to changes in temperature by adjusting the strength of the electric currents. Induction is great for homes in hot places, as only heating the pan means that lost heat energy won’t contribute to warming up your kitchen. It’s also safer, since no open flames or hot surfaces are involved, and the smooth cooking surface makes cleaning up a breeze.

Even more good news: The Inflation Reduction Act includes $4.5 billion in funding for states to provide rebates for electric appliances including stoves, cooktops, and wall ovens (both electric and induction).

You may be eligible for a rebate of up to $840 on an electric cooking appliance and up to an additional $500 to help cover the costs of converting from gas or propane to electric.  That means, depending on the model you go with, you could get a brand new induction or electric stove for as little as a couple hundred dollars. 

In addition, you may be eligible for a tax credit up to $4,000 if you need to upgrade your home’s electrical panel to accommodate electric cooking and other electric appliances, heating and cooling. 

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Authors

Matt Casale

Director, Environment Campaigns, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Matt oversees PIRG's toxics, transportation and zero waste campaigns and leads PIRG’s climate program to promote a cleaner, healthier future for all Americans. Matt lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with his wife, two daughters and chihuahua.

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