A federal regulator has walked back comments about banning gas stoves after backlash to the idea of a ban reached a fever pitch this week.
Consumer Product Safety Commissioner Richard Trumka, Jr., told Bloomberg in an interview this week that a ban was "on the table" for gas stoves, which research has linked to health problems including asthma.
"Products that can't be made safe can be banned," Trumka told the media outlet. Trumka also highlighted the health dangers of gas stoves in an appearance last month before the Public Interest Research Group.
"We need to be talking about regulating gas stoves, whether it's drastically reducing emissions or banning gas stoves entirely," Trumka told PIRG, adding that a ban "is a powerful tool in our toolbox and it's a real possibility here, particularly because there seem to be readily available alternatives already in the market."
The prospect of a ban inflamed the gas industry and plenty of politicians, who painted the problem as an issue of government overreach.
Rep. Byron Donald (R-Fla.) tweeted at President Biden to "get your hands off our gas stoves!!!!"
"If you know ANYTHING about cooking, there is nothing like cooking on a gas stove," he said.
By Tuesday afternoon, the chair of the CPSC clarified that, while the commission is looking at ways to make stoves safer, there would be no ban in the immediate future.
"I am not looking to ban gas stoves and the CPSC has no proceeding to do so," he said. "CPSC is resarching gas emissions in stoves and exploring ways to address health risks."
Trumka also clarified that any ban would apply to new products — not gas stoves Americans currently own.
What will happen, according to Trumka and CPSC records, is a crowdsourced effort to make stoves safer. The CPSC will issue a request for information this spring asking consumers, industry groups and other parties for ideas to mitigate the effects of gas stoves, Trumka said in December.
Dementia and asthma risks
Research is mounting that gas stoves — used by one-third of Americans for cooking — are bad for people's health. A December study found that 13% of childhood asthma cases nationwide can be blamed on indoor use of gas stoves. A previous study from a decade ago found that a gas stove at home increased a child's risk of asthma by 42%.
Cooking on these stoves emits nitrous oxide and fine particulates, which can build up in minutes to levels deemed unsafe by the Environmental Protection Agency. Fine particulates have also been linked with higher rates of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, according to a research article this month from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Even when gas stoves are off, meanwhile, they emit, a potent greenhouse gas that is dozens of times more damaging for the climate than carbon dioxide.
Citing the appliances' harmful environmental impact, dozens of U.S. cities havein new buildings, while about 20 states have on the local level.
The American Gas Association has pushed back against research demonstrating gas stoves' dangers. It previously said that emissions from cooking with gas are similar to emissions created when cooking with electric stoves and that it planned to submit evidence to that effect.
On Tuesday, it slammed the latest study to link gas stoves to asthma, calling it findings "baseless allegations" and pointing to the role of gas infrom the power sector by pushing out more-polluting coal.
"Any efforts to ban highly efficient natural gas stoves should raise alarm bells for the 187 million Americans who depend on this essential fuel every day," the AGA said in a statement.
Limitations on gas stoves are a major concern for the industry, which in 2020 was found to be paying influencers to tout the benefits of cooking with gas.
But public health advocates say that stoves are a glaring exception in health laws that require gas-burning appliances to be vented outdoors. They say the latest research should impel cities and states to accelerate the transition to clean energy and get off fossil fuels entirely.
Gas is "killing us in our own homes," Raya Salter, executive director of the Energy Justice Law and Policy Center, told City Limits recently.
Pushing for rules
Any attempt to regulate stoves, even to improve public health, will likely meet intense pushback from industry and consumers who are attached to their gas stoves. And while some experts say there are superior cooking appliances, such as induction stoves, they cost more upfront than gas stoves, and many Americans conflate this technology with older electric-coil cooktops.
All the more reason to shine a light on the health and environmental concerns around gas stoves, CPSC's Trumka said last month.
"The vast majority of Americans have no idea that every time they cook they could be subjecting themselves and their loved ones to toxic chemicals, including children who are more vulnerable to effects like developing asthma and lifelong respiratory disease," he told PIRG.
Trumka sounded a hopeful note, saying that a proposed regulation could be on the books as early as December 2023.
"Just because the federal government isn't known for moving quickly doesn't mean it couldn't," he added.
This story has been updated.
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