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Clearing the Air: About Gas Stoves

A recent European report suggests that cooking your dinner on a gas stove could expose you to as many pollutants as second-hand smoke. According to other research, children living in a home with a gas stove have a 42% greater chance of developing asthma than other children.

Mounting scientific evidence suggests that gas stoves are bad for the environment and pose potential health risks for those who use them. As a result, cities nationwide, including New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles, have restricted gas stove installation in new homes and buildings.

So, what’s going on?

The Inside Scoop

Unlike water heaters and other gas appliances that are usually sealed off from the main living area, gas stoves are smack dab in the heart of the home. And that can directly expose families to its emissions.

“Gas stoves are a significant source of indoor pollution,” says Daniel Mendoza, PhD, a research assistant professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah who studies air quality and health. “They are the last source of pollution that is coming directly at you that is unfiltered. Cooking over a gas stove involves having a fire in your home, standing directly over it, and breathing the fumes.”

Mendoza adds that lower-income households may be at higher risk of exposure to gas stove pollution. “This is likely due to the necessity to cook with gas due to financial concerns,” he says. “But when compounded with pre-existing health conditions and less access to health care, the impact may be substantially larger.”

Gas stove emissions contain plenty of potentially harmful substances, including formaldehyde, benzene, and carbon monoxide. But two gases, nitrogen dioxide and methane, are particularly worrisome, says Mendoza, who is also an adjunct professor of pulmonary medicine at U of U Health.

Nitrogen Dioxide in the Home

Nitrogen dioxide is released when fossil fuels, including petroleum and natural gas, are burned at high temperatures. It’s best known as a component of smog. Indoors, it can irritate the lungs and airways, leading to respiratory infections, heightened sensitivity to allergens, and asthma in children.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency isn’t authorized to regulate indoor air quality. As a result, homes with gas stoves can often have nitrogen dioxide levels up to four times higher than EPA outdoor guidelines.

In fact, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute, simply boiling water on a gas stove releases almost twice as much nitrogen dioxide than would be considered safe outdoors.

"The effects of this gas can be devastating, increasing susceptibility to lung infections and heart disease. It also contributes to the onset of asthma and worsening of its symptoms, particularly among children."
Daniel Mendoza, PhD

Concerns About Methane Mount

Methane, a potential greenhouse gas, is emitted from gas stoves even when turned off. This leakage isn’t trivial. Scientists calculate that methane escaping from U.S. homes with gas cooktops has the same impact on the climate as carbon dioxide emissions from 500,000 cars annually.

“Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and can have an adverse impact on the climate fairly rapidly,” Mendoza says. “That’s why it is so vital that we begin to address these relatively small methane leaks from gas stoves. They really do add up over time.”

How to Lower Your Risk

Electrify: Switching to an electric stove is the best option, Mendoza says. But that may not be practical for some. Short of a total crossover, consider:

  • Boiling water using an electric kettle or microwave instead of on a gas range.
  • Cooking with an electric slow cooker, a plug-in countertop induction burner, toaster oven, or microwave when possible.

If you use a gas stove:

Ventilate: If possible, open windows on either side of the kitchen to create a cross breeze, Mendoza suggests. It will help disperse the pollutants.

Use an exhaust hood: Fans can whisk most of the pollutants away from you—that is, if the air is vented outdoors. If not, the air is merely recirculated within the home with all the pollutants still hovering around, just waiting to be inhaled. If you don’t have an outdoor vent, consider installing one.

That said, using an exhaust hood, even if it doesn’t vent outside, is better than no fan at all, according to Mendoza, because it dilutes the concentration of harmful gases that someone is exposed to while cooking.