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The Great Stove Debate

Gas burners are suddenly under fire

It's the hottest debate in town, and might be the latest casualty of the climate action crusade: Gas stoves and their harmful effects. As consumers and manufacturers alike wait for regulations to change on this matter, you can find opinions on it everywhere. First, here's the January 11 comment from the federal government's Consumer Product Safety Commission on the developing prospect of regulations:

"Over the past several days, there has been a lot of attention paid to gas stove emissions and to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Research indicates that emissions from gas stoves can be hazardous, and the CPSC is looking for ways to reduce related indoor air quality hazards. But to be clear, I am not looking to ban gas stoves and the CPSC has no proceeding to do so. CPSC is researching gas emissions in stoves and exploring new ways to address health risks. CPSC also is actively engaged in strengthening voluntary safety standards for gas stoves. And later this spring, we will be asking the public to provide us with information about gas stove emissions and potential solutions for reducing any associated risks. This is part of our product safety mission – learning about hazards and working to make products safer. "—Alexander Hoehn-Saric

The average household stove is surely hard to keep clean (like this one), but is it really an existential threat to human health?—Electrical Apparatus photo

Next, here's a brief EA round-up of what some are saying in the debate:

A 2020 report from the Rocky Mountain Institute contends that "burning gas in buildings is not only a threat to climate action but also to human health, as these appliances are sources of indoor air pollution." This report, which has been sourced in other, more heated corridors of the debate since is recent renewal, continued with specifics:

"Gas stoves, particularly when unvented, can be a primary source of indoor air pollution. What’s more, a robust body of scientific research shows the pollutants released by gas stoves can have negative health effects, often exacerbating respiratory conditions like asthma.

Despite this growing body of evidence, indoor air pollution remains largely unregulated. In this report, we synthesize the last two decades of research and offer recommendations for policymakers, researchers, health care professionals, and the public to work to swiftly to mitigate the health risks associated with gas stoves. Air pollution is preventable, and we hope this report can spur the necessary action to protect public health."

Likewise, new peer-reviewed research published last month in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that more than 12% of current childhood asthma cases in the US can be attributed to gas stove use.

Here’s what New York Times senior staff writer Rachel Wharton had to say on the issue, which the famous paper says it's covered extensively; Wharton acknowledged the risks of gas stoves but at least provided some mitigation options for the everyday household:

“The recent kerfuffle over when and how the Consumer Product Safety Commission will consider new regulations on gas stoves brought some old news into the spotlight: Gas stoves have long been shown to release some benzene, methane, nitrogen oxides and other potentially risky airborne substances when you use them. The good news is that you can usually mitigate the risks (even for kids with asthma) by just getting more fresh air into your kitchen while you cook. Below are some specific ways to do that:

  1. If you have one, turn on your hood exhaust fan every single time you cook. It’s not just for frying fish.

  2. Open a window or door to the outside. Especially if you don’t have a range hood. Maybe add a fan facing out.

  3. Get an air quality monitor. It can track carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and give you an extra nudge to do one of the above.

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