I’ll have the turkey, hold the pollution

How to protect your family from gas stove pollution this Thanksgiving

Clean air

Tim Sackton | CC-BY-2.0
A Thanksgiving turkey

Is there a more classic (and tasty) American meal than Thanksgiving dinner? Turkey. Mashed potatoes. Stuffing. Green bean casserole. Cranberry sauce. All smothered in gravy. And all cooked – and enjoyed – in the company of our loved ones.

But in millions of American homes, there’s a hidden danger lurking in the kitchen. Common across the country, gas stoves can produce levels of indoor air pollution that would exceed outdoor air quality standards. Cooking with gas releases pollutants into our homes that can lead to the development of asthma, especially in children, and worsen symptoms for those with preexisting respiratory illnesses. One report compared the effects of using a gas stove around kids to those of second-hand smoke exposure.

Running a gas stove for just one hour can lead to unsafe pollutant levels. During the holidays, many Americans cook for far longer than one hour— cooking a turkey can take four hours. An indoor air quality experiment conducted in 2018 by HomeChem found that pollution levels in a home while cooking a Thanksgiving meal briefly exceeded those of the world’s most polluted cities.

The kitchen should be a place of bonding – especially on Thanksgiving. It should be a place where Americans can come together with their loved ones to cook, eat and talk about their lives. It should not be a place where our families are exposed to toxic pollution that can make us sick.

So how can you keep your family safe from gas stove pollution this Thanksgiving? Here are some tips.

1. Go Electric.

Ultimately, the healthiest option is to use an electric alternative to gas. No one is expecting you to go out and buy a new stove before Thanksgiving this year, but next time you are in the market or considering kitchen upgrades, it would be wise to consider electric or induction options. Induction cooktops – which use electromagnetic power to directly heat the pans – are gaining popularity with both home and professional chefs. 

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.

2. 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 is that of a ducted range hood, which is installed above the stove to catch air and smoke as it rises and moves 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.

3. 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, there are other measures you can take 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.
  • Try cooking your turkey outside to avoid running a gas-powered oven for hours on end. You can place your turkey on a roasting pan in the grill with the lid down and cook for roughly two to three hours, or until the turkey’s internal temperature reaches 180° F.

For more tips and information, view our Healthier Holiday cooking guide here.

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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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