Living with a gas stove? Tips for minimizing health risks
It’s now well established that living with a gas stove can cause a range of health problems that include asthma, heart disease and possibly cancer.
“You're igniting a gas that generates nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde into your kitchen,” said Annemarie Dooley, a Seattle doctor who serves on the board of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility.
“And it can often, within minutes, make the air quality in your kitchen worse - and exceed EPA outdoor limits. I mean, that's within minutes.”
Dooley said gas stoves are like cigarettes; she thinks they should at least come with a health warning.
Cooking is personal
Many people are fond of their gas ranges. And switching isn’t easy.
“I think that's because I grew up with gas range stoves and I just really appreciate that as a tool, for cooking,” said KNKX All Things Considered Host Freddy Monares. “And it's sort of how I learned how to cook.”
He said he remembers seeing his 90-year-old grandmother roasting chilies on an open gas flame when he was little. And today, he insists there‘s no better or faster way to warm a tortilla – much to the amazement of many of his friends.
But he did notice something when he moved to the Puget sound region from Montana and got a house with a gas range – after seven years living without one. It gave off an odor, coming from the flames.
“I mean, it kind of makes sense if we're burning gas and cars that puts out emissions, you know, that the same would be true for a stove inside your house,” Monares said.
Citing health risks, the Washington State Medical Association passed a 2021 resolution last year, stating that gas for cooking and heating should be phased out. A new report from the Sierra Club and the US Public Interest Research Group found that retailers such as Lowes and Home Depot fail to share any of these health concerns with shoppers.
Monares agreed that there should at least be a warning label - because a stove is an investment you keep for years.
“It would be nice to know upfront what you're getting into and any potential harm that could come from the product that you’re buying,” Monares said.
Twenty members of Congress, among them Washington Senator Patty Murray, are calling on the US Consumer Product Safety Commission to take swift regulatory action, including mandatory labels, to protect Americans from gas stove pollution. The chair of that agency, Commissioner Richard Trumka, said banning them entirely is possible. Public outreach will begin in March.
In the meantime, what can you do to protect your health if you’re stuck living with a gas stove? They’re expensive to replace and electrical work may be required. Plus, some people may not want to cook on anything else.
What can you do if you’re not ready to replace your gas stove?
Annemarie Dooley, with Physicians for Social Responsibility, suggests the following:
- Ventilate your home while cooking. Start by opening the windows in the kitchen to get good airflow (if it’s not too cold) when you turn on the stove.
- Be sure to use the fan in your stove’s hood, if you have one. Even if it’s noisy, turn it up to full blast whenever a burner is on. Make sure the exhaust fan vents to the outside of your home.
- Choose the back burners. Use them first whenever you cook because they’re farther from your lungs and better ventilated by most hoods.
- Use a carbon monoxide detector to monitor CO pollution levels in your kitchen - or get several to deploy throughout your home.
- Get an induction cooktop to use instead of your gas burners. You can place this on your counter or if your stove has a cover, on top of the range. They pollute far less and are more affordable than a whole new stove.
- Research a replacement. Electric induction ranges – which some cooks swear by – can be intimidating and expensive. But lots of federal subsidies are currently available for climate-friendly appliances through Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. And state level programs may come soon, for example through the Climate Commitment Act that takes effect on January 1, 2023 in Washington.