When the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced in mid-December that it was considering its first-ever gas stove health regulations, it was the start of a very long journey toward restrictions of any kind — one that will take public comment out, too of the gas industry, when determining the approach. However, debate exploded this week when Bloomberg reported that the agency was considering a ban.
The agency could go one of many avenues: new performance standards for range hoods to ensure they filter out emissions, a requirement that stoves be sold with a range hood to vent to the outside, or, most drastic, a ban on their importation and manufacturing. “Every option is on the table,” commission head Richard Trumka Jr. told Bloomberg.
An option that isn’t on the table forces people to replace existing stoves. The Commission’s rules would only apply to New Products. But the announcement triggered one right away setback. Americans have a long-standing love affair with the gas stove — one that Sen. Joe Manchin summed up pretty well when he tweeted Tuesday, “I can tell you the last thing that would ever leave my house is the gas stove we’re on.” Cook .”
We’re still a long way from the end of the gas stove, which is present in 40 million American homes, or about 38 percent. If you still prefer gas – whether you care for the clever marketing of the gas industry, just think it cooks better than induction, or can’t afford to swap for induction – Nobody will force you to give it up. But adding to the climate arguments for being less reliant on gas, there is growing concern about the potential health risks of gas as a source of indoor air pollution. This worrying science is the real reason the CPSC is even concerned with the machine.
Gas stoves are a worrying source of indoor pollution and a cause of childhood asthma
When the stove or oven is turned on, the first thing that comes out is pure natural gas (which is really just methane, the world’s second most problematic greenhouse gas). Once the burner is on, other pollutants will also build up in your kitchen, including carbon monoxide and formaldehyde. The biggest concern is nitrogen dioxide, which causes cardiovascular problems and respiratory diseases; it can make people, especially children, more likely to develop asthma. The pollutant can cause airway inflammation, coughing and wheezing, and increased asthma attacks in anyone, and at dangerously high levels (over 200 parts per billion), the EPA warns everyone to limit their exposure. At these concentrations, children, older adults, and people with lung disease should avoid all exposure.
Nitrogen oxides are a by-product of methane combustion, so the gas stove or oven will work accurately as intended in the production of this pollutant. Outside, the EPA would consider the level of NO2 produced by the furnace to be illegal. Inside, however, there is no regulation.
And decades of research have found that nitrogen dioxide is present in high concentrations when using a gas stove and oven. As early as the 1980s, the CPSC was aware of the health concerns associated with gas stoves, as was the EPA. Indoor air quality scientists like Shelly Miller, an environmental engineer at the University of Colorado Boulder, have told me that society has been aware of the risks since at least the 1990s. “Cooking,” she has said, “is the most common way you soil your home. It causes respiratory and cardiovascular health problems; it can exacerbate flu and asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in children.”
The growing evidence and public pressure prompted the American Medical Association to pass the resolution this fall recognizing “the link between gas stove use, indoor nitrogen dioxide levels, and asthma.” A report published in December International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health It is estimated that nearly 13 percent of childhood asthma cases in the United States are caused by use of a gas stove, similar to secondhand smoke. It’s a level that “could theoretically be prevented if a gas stove were not used,” the report said.
The American Gas Association has strongly opposed this research, pointing to 2013 Lancet Respiratory Medicine Study of 500,000 children in 47 countries that “found no evidence of an association between the use of gas as a fuel for cooking and either asthma symptoms or a diagnosis of asthma”. (The 2013 study relied on self-reported questionnaires, and the co-author went on to tell E&E News that his other research linked asthma to gas cooking.)
“Attempts to create consumer fears with baseless claims to justify banning natural gas is a misguided agenda that would fail to improve the environment or consumer health and impose significant costs on vulnerable populations,” the trade group said in a statement.
The industry points to ventilation as a solution to pollution from gas stoves, saying that all cooking, even on an electric stove or the modern induction equivalent, produces fine dust that should be ventilated.
The study of asthma prevalence found that ventilation reduces risk but does not eliminate it – and gas stoves do not need to be vented to the outside, the gold standard for reducing NO2 emissions. These systems are more commonly found in restaurant kitchens, which are subject to more stringent health and safety oversight than people’s homes. Gas ranges don’t have to be sold with a hood, and many homes simply don’t have a fan at all.
If you have a gas range, it’s important to increase ventilation: turn on the range hood if you have one (the fans that many people put under the microwave are less than ideal as a range hood because they don’t vent to the outside is vented). If not, using fans, air filters, and opening a window may help some. Some consumers may choose to purchase a plug-in induction cooktop, or may look to smaller electrification solutions such as kettles and toaster ovens to minimize stovetop and oven usage.
But the gas industry is determined to defend its product at all costs. In a 2021 email, an executive, Sue Kristjansson, who is now president of Berkshire Gas, said it was important not to give in to furnace critics even an inch: “If we wait to promote natural gas furnaces until we have scientific data that they do not cause air quality problems, we are done.”
Ultimately, the fate of the gas stove will not be determined by science, but by the gas industry
The natural gas industry has a strong incentive to ensure that there is never CPSC regulation. Not because cooking itself is a particularly large profit margin for the industry; Their true profit centers are gas stoves and water heaters, which are subject to outdoor venting regulations and contribute less to poor indoor air quality and more to outdoor pollution. Instead, they want to make sure Americans continue their emotional bond with the stove, which keeps them addicted to gas.
The CPSC views herds as a health issue, but cities and states have also looked at reducing their use from another angle: climate change. Buildings are responsible for about 13 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and most of that comes from the combustion of gas used to power water heaters, heating, and cooking. Climate activists have launched campaigns across the country trying to get buildings gas-free, though all citywide and statewide initiatives so far have focused only on ensuring new ones Construction runs on electricity instead of the gigantic task of redesigning existing buildings.
The gas industry has appeared in each of these struggles, questioning the science behind gas stoves and launching elaborate public relations campaigns to prevent activists from gaining ground. The gas industry has hired social media influencers to tout the benefits of gas cooking in key battlegrounds, and hired a company where an employee posed as a concerned neighbor on Nextdoor to start a local protest against electrification.
There is a long way to go before regulation at the federal level. If you live in California or New York, you may first see some action around the city or across the state as they electrify new buildings and set standards for gas stove sales. In the meantime, homeowners and building operators can choose whether or not to take advantage of the newly available federal tax credits and home electrification rebates. The Inflation Reduction Act provides subsidies for induction cookers, all aimed at increasing household efficiency and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
The CPSC does go back a little of Trumka’s first statements, should agree on a compromise approach. A New York University Policy Integrity report this spring outlined some of these options, including requiring stoves to be sold with hoods, setting performance standards for those hoods, or equipping gas stoves with sensors that warn the user of pollution levels.
“Nobody’s going to go into their kitchen in the morning and find a hole where the gas stove used to be,” said Jack Lienke, co-author of the NYU report. “The bottom line is that Congress created the CPSC to ensure consumer products — including home appliances — are reasonably safe. A growing body of evidence suggests that gas stoves are not. If the Commission ignored this reality, it would not be doing its job.”