Are gas stoves really dangerous? What we know about the science | Air pollution
Gas stoves are a hot topic. A new study linked them to one in eight cases of childhood asthma, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission said it would consider banning them, and Republicans expressed outrage at the mere suggestion.
At the same time, federal and state policies aim to give a boost to the main competition of gas stoves – regular electric stoves and ballyhooo induction stoves.
What does all this mean for you? We’ll break it down in this explainer.
Are gas stoves a source of indoor air pollution?
Undoubtedly, yes. There are two ways gas stoves pollute your home. The first is the most obvious: when they are in use. Burning gas creates heat, which causes nitrogen and oxygen to bond between the flames. They combine to create nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, collectively known as NOx, which can irritate the lungs. But this is not the only complex to worry about. Gas cooking can also release carbon monoxide, particulate matter and even formaldehyde. All of these have various adverse health effects and can affect the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
There is likely a more subtle form of contamination emanating from your stove. A growing body of research shows that gas stoves release toxic compounds even when not in use. Among the most worrisome is benzene, a carcinogen. A study by PSE Health Energy found benzene in 99% of the samples it took in California homes. Other chemicals detected include xylene, toluene and ethylbenzene, which can also cause respiratory problems and can even cause cancer.
Talor Gruenwald, lead author of the new asthma study and researcher at Rewiring America, said the finding “demonstrates that this is a real public health challenge that we need to address.”
Just how much pollution are we talking about here?
A lot. The PSE Health Energy study found that gas stoves can emit as much benzene as a cigarette, making them similar to secondhand smoke.
“You can get the same level of benzene just by having a stove that’s turned off in your house as you would expect to see if you had a house with a smoker in it,” said Seth Shonkoff, executive director of PSE Energy Health. and collaborator. researcher at the University of California, Berkeley.
This, of course, only when the stove is turned off. Research published last year found that NOx emissions when a stove is in use can exceed federal safety standards for outdoor air quality in minutes. For this reason, Shonkoff referred to stoves as “stationary air pollution machines inside people’s homes,” albeit ones that are not subject to the same outdoor air pollution standards.
Gruenwald also compared stoves to having smokers next door, saying, “Honestly, the stove is going to be the main source of pollution unless you live in a house with smokers.”
Gas stoves are also terrible for the climate. Methane emissions from gas stoves in the US are equivalent to adding 500,000 cars to the road each year.
Can you test for gas stove contamination at home?
Not really. While there are a number of indoor air quality sensors for things like carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds and particulates, there are no inexpensive home versions for testing NOx, benzene and other household pollutants. There are somewhat affordable instruments to detect gas leaks, but Shonkoff said they are geared more toward significant leaks rather than the everyday emissions of gas stoves. (And if you smell gas, call 911 or 911 immediately.)
He added that the tools used by academics cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Does using a hood/vent make a difference?
Of course yes. Turning on that ventilation while cooking is vital to bring air pollution outside. This is obviously not an ideal solution as it simply turns indoor air pollution into outdoor air pollution. But it’s better than having it in high concentrations in your home, where it can do more damage to your lungs.
What else can be done to reduce indoor air pollution from gas stoves?
For those who don’t have a hood over the stove (like me), Shonkoff said opening the windows is also a good tactic to clean the air. Even better would be to put a fan in the window to help draw in the indoor air.
Of course, the best way to reduce gas stove pollution is to not have a gas stove in the first place.
What are some alternatives to gas stoves?
Electric stoves come in two main flavors: standard and induction. Standard electric stoves pass electricity through a wire to generate thermal heat.
Induction stoves are more and more fashionable. Instead of generating thermal heat, induction cookers generate electromagnetic heat. When you turn on an induction stove, electricity flows through a coil that creates a magnetic field. I won’t go into exactly how this heats your pots and pans (more info here if you’re interested), but yes.
What you need to know is that the magnetic field directly heats pots and pans – and their contents – rather than transferring the heat like traditional stoves do. The stove itself does not heat up. You can actually turn on an induction burner and put your hand on it. (Just don’t do it after a hot pot has risen to the surface.) Also unlike traditional electric stoves, induction stoves don’t take time to heat up. This makes them more analogous to gas stoves. But they are more efficient than gas stoves. Tests have shown they can bring a pot of water to a boil in half the time of a gas stove.
How much does an induction stove cost compared to a gas stove?
Switching from gas to induction can be expensive. A cursory look at retailer Lowe’s shows that the cheapest gas stove is $529, while the cheapest induction stove is $1,199, at the time of publication.
Switching from gas to induction also comes with other costs. Induction cooktops don’t plug into standard wall outlets, so an electrician will probably need to repair your kitchen. And induction stoves only work with certain types of pots and pans. If you own a copper or aluminum cookware set, you’ll probably need to invest in some new pots and pans.
Are there ways to cut costs?
You’re in luck, because the answer is yes. If you’re curious about induction and want to dip your toe in, there are plenty of single-burner induction cooktops to get you started. The Wirecutter’s top pick comes in at $117, making it a reasonable entry point, while its budget pick is even less expensive. You can buy four and put them on your gas stove and voilà, you have an induction range for less than $500. However, this is definitely a strange solution.
In the US, the Inflation Reduction Act includes rebates of up to $840 for buyers who buy an induction or electric stove. If you earn less than 80% of the median household income in your area, you qualify for the full discount. For those earning between 80% and 150% of the median household income, you can get a rebate of up to half the cost of the new stove.
For people switching from gas to electric, there is an additional $500 to cover installation costs. Rewiring America has a calculator to find out which stove tax credits and deductions and other electrification benefits you qualify for under the Inflation Reduction Act.