If you’ve ever been in the market for a new stove, you know how appealing a gas stove can be. Gas stoves heat food quickly and evenly, give you precise control over your burners, and work even when there’s a power outage. But, there’s a dark side to gas stoves that many people aren’t aware of…
Gas stoves emit dangerous levels of pollutants
The truth is that any kind of cooking emits pollutants. Applying heat to food produces a range of fine (PM2.5) and ultrafine particles that can be harmful to your health.
But, cooking with fossil fuels, including gas, presents even more dangers. Research suggests that gas cooking generates about twice as much PM2.5 as electric. It also produces nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), and formaldehyde (CH2O or HCHO).
Why it matters
While a lot of attention has been given to outdoor pollution, the truth is that people in the US generally spend up to 90% of their time indoors.
And, as bad as you may believe your outdoor air quality to be, it’s likely that your indoor air quality is far worse. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that “studies of human exposure to air pollutants indicate that indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times — and occasionally more than 100 times — higher than outdoor levels.”
Unfortunately, homes that have gas stoves are often some of the worst offenders when it comes to poor indoor air quality.
Think back again to those pollutants that gas stoves emit. Here’s how breathing them in each day is affecting your health:
PM2.5, along with even tinier ultrafine particles are composed of a mixture of solid and liquid particles that are suspended in the air. PM2.5 particles are easily inhaled and are able to penetrate deep into your respiratory system.
Exposure to PM2.5 has multiple short term and long term health impacts. Short-term issues include eye, nose, and throat irritation, coughing, sneezing, and shortness of breath. Long term exposure to PM2.5 can cause permanent respiratory problems such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and heart disease.
While PM2.5 impacts everyone, people with breathing and heart problems, children, and the elderly are most sensitive to it. One recent study called PM 2.5 “the largest environmental risk factor worldwide,” responsible for many more deaths than alcohol use, physical inactivity or high sodium intake.
Carbon Monoxide or CO is an invisible, odorless gas that can cause dizziness, headaches, fatigue, disorientation, and even death at high concentrations. Fortunately, gas stoves that are working properly don’t typically emit enough CO for these extreme symptoms, but even a low dosage of CO can cause problems. Research shows that low-level CO exposure can exacerbate cardiovascular illness among people with coronary heart disease and other vulnerable populations.
Four research and advocacy groups — the Rocky Mountain Institute, Mothers Out Front, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Sierra Club have put together a review on the dangers of gas stoves. The report indicates that “In homes without gas stoves, average CO levels are between 0.5 and 5 ppm. Homes with gas stoves that are properly adjusted are often between 5 and 15 ppm, whereas levels near poorly adjusted stoves can be twice as high: 30 ppm or higher.”
Because they process carbon monoxide differently than adults, young children may experience more severe side effects and show signs of poisoning quickly.
Nitrogen Dioxide, or NO2, has long been linked with respiratory issues, especially in children. Newer research shows that Nitrogen Dioxide can also be a factor in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, poorer birth outcomes, premature mortality, lower cognitive performance, and cancer.
Unfortunately, only small amounts of NO2 are required to cause long term health problems. Homes with gas stoves have from 50 percent to over 400 percent higher levels of NO2 than homes with electric stoves. These concentrations often exceed US outdoor pollution standards.
An assortment of other chemicals released by gas stoves, including formaldehyde, are still being studied to determine their effect on human health. While researchers have not pinpointed the specific dangers of each chemical, together they form a dangerous mix, especially for the respiratory systems of children.
The gas stove review done by the advocacy groups noted that “a meta-analysis looking at the association between gas stoves and childhood asthma found children in homes with gas stoves have a 42 percent increased risk of experiencing asthma symptoms (current asthma), a 24 percent increased risk of ever being diagnosed with asthma by a doctor (lifetime asthma), and an overall 32 percent increased risk of both current and lifetime asthma.”
What regulations are there to keep consumers safe?
Believe it or not, despite the clear danger that these pollutants present, there are no federal standards or guidelines governing indoor pollution. This means that we, as consumers, have to be alert and well-informed as to how to best protect our family’s health.
What can you do to keep your indoor air safe?
Buy an electric stove. The best way to keep pollutants down in your kitchen is to opt for an electric stove. But, if you already have a gas stove, there are some things you can do to make it safer to use.
Make sure that your stove has been properly installed with a hood or fan that leads outside. Because stoves are the only major indoor gas appliance not required to be vented outdoors, it’s important to be specific when having your stove installed or adjusted. And, if you are renting your home, check with your landlord about the measures taken to ensure your gas stove is as safe as possible.
Use your fan. While fans may be noisy or bothersome to remember, they can be helpful in reducing pollutants, as long as they are vented outside.
Open windows. Because few stoves are properly installed with adequate ventilation, it may be best to open a window while you’re cooking, especially if the air gets smoky or has strong smells.
Use an air purifier with a HEPA filter. Although the standard for HEPA filters is that they need to be able to filter out 99.95% or more of all particles which are 0.3 microns in diameter, they are actually capable of filtering out particles of almost any size. A True HEPA filter can trap dust, smoke, pet allergens, PM2.5, and viruses.
For even better protection, look for a high-quality purifier with an activated carbon filter to remove harmful gases and odors so that you and your family can enjoy clean, healthy air in the kitchen and throughout the rest of your home.