Gas stoves: Igniting a new range war
"Now they're coming for our stoves!" Depending on which news outlets you tend to follow, it would be pretty easy of late to get the mistaken impression that someone might be coming for your gas stove.
But how exactly did this most recent skirmish in the culture war start? Almost a month ago, Richard Trumka Jr., of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, told Bloomberg News that "everything was on the table" when it comes to addressing the potential health risks posed by gas stoves.
- Federal regulator won't ban gas stoves after all (Moneywatch)
- Cities are banning natural gas in new homes, citing climate change (Moneywatch)
The health risks of gas stoves explained (Scientific American)
Maria Espada was only too happy to have her gas stove replaced. For 44 years, she's lived in the Watson Houses of New York City's Housing Authority in the Bronx, with what she says are the effects of her unventilated gas stove, including asthma. "Because of the symptoms I was getting when I would be here in the kitchen, I would always have my window open a little bit, always," she said.
The group We Act for Environmental Justice replaced 18 gas stoves in Espada's building with stoves that use a newer technology called induction, because they and an increasing group of scientists, doctors and chefs say so-called "clean-burning" natural gas is actually not the most healthy way to cook food inside your home. Annie Carforo, who is with We Act for Environmental Justice, said that, according to their data, "Just by taking out a gas stove, we can reduce nitrogen dioxide in someone's home by 35%."
Eric Lebel, a scientist for PSE Healthy Energy, a non-profit research institute, said, "What our data has shown is that natural gas is not as clean as we thought. It leaks inside your house, and these leaks are both damaging to the climate and to the health."
In a recent peer-reviewed study, Lebel examined just how much methane and other chemicals are emitted by gas stoves into the home. Venting your kitchen is important, he said, but it isn't a perfect solution.
- Methane and NOx Emissions from Natural Gas Stoves, Cooktops, and Ovens in Residential Homes (Environmental Science & Technology)
"Nearly every stove that we measured emitted methane or natural gas while it was off, and that gas contains benzene," Lebel said. "Meanwhile, while you use your stove, nearly every stove emits some amount of nitrogen dioxide, which is a respiratory irritant, and it can be damaging to your health."
Lebel's study is one of many that link the pollutants from gas stoves to elevated levels of asthma, particularly in children:
- Meta-analysis of the effects of indoor nitrogen dioxide and gas cooking on asthma and wheeze in children (Int'l Journal of Epidemiology)
- Household levels of nitrogen dioxide and pediatric asthma severity (Epidemiology)
- The respiratory health effects of nitrogen dioxide in children with asthma (European Respiratory Journal)
- Association of Indoor Nitrogen Dioxide Exposure with Respiratory Symptoms in Children with Asthma (American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine)
- Population Attributable Fraction of Gas Stoves and Childhood Asthma in the United States (Int'l Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health)
…Studies the gas industry strongly refutes: "Linking natural gas cooking with asthma," the American Gas Association said, "is not substantiated by sound science."
In a statement, the GA said, "While combustion emissions from gas ranges, ovens, and cooktops can contribute to emissions of recognized pollutants, there are no documented risks to respiratory health from regulatory and advisory agencies and organizations responsible for protecting consumer health."
- Review and comments: Composition, emissions, and air quality impacts of hazardous air pollutants in unburned natural gas from residential stoves in California (AGA)
- Cooking with gas: Indoor air quality and residential gas ranges (AGA)
It turns out America's love affair with so-called "natural gas" is no accident. It's the result of a concerted effort by the gas industry to sell its product, and it's worked. More than one-third of Americans use gas to cook at home.
Lebel said, "There's something very human, very intimate about cooking over an open flame inside your kitchen."
And for many years, gas stoves were inarguably superior to electric when it came to cooking. But these days, many chefs will tell you induction cooking has more than caught up.
Rachelle Boucher has been a professional chef for over 20 years, cooking for celebrity clients. These days she's part of the Building Decarbonization Coalition, a group (funded by electric utilities, appliance makers and tech companies) that evangelizes what she calls the "magic of induction cooking."
She demonstrated for Burbank how quickly water boils, for example, by using an induction stovetop. "Water boils twice as fast," she said. "We can watch water boil. It's a thing now."
"So, this is a watched pot that actually is going to boil?" asked Burbank.
"I know, right? I have been working with induction for so many years, and I always still have a sense of wonder about it."
She explained the process: "Instead of heating something up, it starts to move the molecules in the pan, and it creates friction, and it makes your pan into your heat source."
Induction doesn't heat up your kitchen. It also doesn't put out the same emissions as gas stoves.
Back in the Bronx, Maria Espada was also cooking on her induction stove – a simple act she hopes to enjoy in her home for the foreseeable future.
For more info:
- The health risks of gas stoves explained (Scientific American)
- We Act for Environmental Justice's Out of Gas campaign
- PSE Healthy Energy's research on natural gas stoves
- Chef Rachelle Boucher (Instagram)
- Kitchens to Life
- Building Decarbonization Coalition
Story produced by Anthony Laudato. Editor: Emanuele Secci.
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