Have a gas stove? How to reduce pollution that may harm health

Gas stoves affect the air quality inside and outside your home and 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 effects of outdoor air pollution and how you can reduce health risks by reducing your exposure. There is mounting evidence that we should also think about our indoor air quality, and research points to the potential harms of gas stoves.

If you have a gas stove, as many people do, understanding the issues and taking a few steps can help protect your household. These steps can also help improve outdoor air quality.

Gas stoves have been linked to childhood asthma

Cooking on gas stoves creates nitrogen dioxide and releases additional tiny airborne particles known as PM2.5, both of which are lung irritants. Nitrogen dioxide has been linked to childhood asthma. In 2019 alone, it was estimated that almost two million new-onset childhood asthma cases worldwide were due to nitrogen dioxide pollution.

According to an analysis of observational studies, children living in households that use gas stoves for cooking have a 42% higher risk of developing asthma. While observational studies cannot prove that cooking with gas is the direct cause of asthma, data also shows that the higher the levels of nitrogen dioxide, the more severe asthma symptoms are in both children and adults.

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Cooking and baking with gas appliances can release high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide. A recent study published by researchers at Stanford calculated that emissions of nitrogen dioxide from certain gas burners or stoves increased above the outdoor standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a matter of minutes. Currently, the EPA has not set a standard for safe indoor values.

Organizations such as the Massachusetts Medical Society and the American Medical Association seek to raise awareness of these risks among clinicians and the public. However, much of this information still comes as a surprise to many.

Gas stoves leak even when turned off

The Stanford study tested gas stoves in 53 homes. All of the ovens leaked methane gas, even when turned off. These leaks accounted for 76% of their total methane gas emissions. Both methane and nitrogen dioxide contribute to air pollution by creating ground-level ozone and smog. Methane is also an important greenhouse gas and exacerbates climate change. Remarkably, neither methane nor nitrogen dioxide emissions were associated with the age or price of the gas stove in this study.

Toxic chemicals in gas stoves and plumbing

In addition, a study by Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and PSE Healthy Energy showed that gas appliances also introduce other toxic chemicals into homes. Researchers collected unburned gas from furnaces and building ducts in the greater Boston 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 risk of asthma, cancer, and other diseases.

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

There are steps you can take to reduce your health risks from indoor air pollution, including these.

Ventilate your kitchen while cooking

  • Open your windows while you cook.
  • Use exhaust fans that blow the air outside. Although this contributes to outdoor air pollution, it reduces exposure to unhealthy air at higher concentrations indoors. (Ductless fans that recirculate the fumes through filters don’t work as well.)

Use air purifiers

While they don’t remove all pollutants, air purifiers can improve indoor air quality. Choose an air purifier with a high Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) that is appropriate for the size of your space. Air purifiers are easy to move, so you can put them near the kitchen during the day and in the bedroom when you sleep. Remember to replace the filters when they are dirty.

Switch to electric appliances for cooking

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

  • Use a kettle instead of boiling water on the stove.
  • Cook with an electric slow cooker, pressure cooker, rice cooker, toaster or microwave.
  • Replace a gas stove with an electric stove. Check out these tips for making the switch and recycling devices. If you’re a Massachusetts resident, you may be eligible for a $500 rebate from Mass Save on switching from a gas to an induction stovetop this year. (Other states may offer similar incentives.)
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The switch would also help the environment, as electrical appliances do not rely on methane gas but can use renewable, clean energy sources. And ultimately, taking action to fight climate change means taking action for a healthier planet and a healthier you.

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