Gas Stove Health Concerns: What to Know and How to Reduce Your Risk

  • Gas stoves made headlines this week after an official from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission hinted at a potential ban during an interview, due to associated health risks.
  • Currently, there is no ban on gas stoves, nor are there any plans to establish one.
  • Gas stoves, however, carry very real health risks, including their link to childhood asthma cases.
woman putting kettle on gas stove

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Gas stoves—which can be found in more than 40 million U.S. households—have been linked to negative health effects for decades. But new comments from a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) official and a recently published study have reignited the debate about their impact on Americans’ health.

The study, published in December in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found that nationwide, about 12.7% of children’s asthma cases are attributed to gas stove usage. This is because when fossil fuels are burned, they can release pollutants that exacerbate asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Though the study’s findings are noteworthy on their own, the conversation about gas stove usage and public health has been catapulted to a new level due to comments made by CPSC commissioner Richard Trumka Jr. in a Bloomberg article from January 9. In reference to gas stoves, Trumka told the site that, “Any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”

CPSC Chair Alex Hoehn-Saric later took to Twitter on January 11 to clarify Trumka’s comments, writing, “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.”

Despite Hoehn-Saric’s statement, the idea of banning gas stoves has quickly become a political talking point. Republican Senator from Arkansas Tom Cotton tweeted, “Democrats are coming for your kitchen appliances,” and Republican Representative Darrell Issa from California introduced legislation yesterday that would block attempted bans on gas stoves. Some have criticized the topic as yet another “culture war” in American politics.

However, the political discourse should not take away from the actual question of how gas stoves—along with their prevalence in the U.S. and a lack of regulation—can have a large impact on general health.

Here’s what experts had to say about how dangerous gas stoves really are to our health, who’s most at risk of negative health effects, and what you can do to keep yourself and your family safe.

Why Are Gas Stoves Dangerous to Health?

While people are cooking, gas stoves can emit harmful gases, explained Jonathan Levy, ScD, professor and chair of the department of environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health. Gas stoves work by burning natural gas, a fossil fuel; nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde are all products of that process.

Experts are particularly worried about nitrogen dioxide exposure, which can trigger various health issues. "Concentrations can get fairly high in indoor settings during cooking," Levy told Health.

Long-term exposures to nitrogen dioxide can increase susceptibility to asthma or other respiratory conditions, and can be especially dangerous for children, the elderly, and people who already have asthma. Even short-term exposures can increase hospital visits and respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing.

“There's risk for kids who already have asthma, and making that asthma worse. And there's evidence that nitrogen dioxide is a risk factor for developing asthma as well,” said Levy.

Cooking with gas can make adult asthma worse as well, he explained. It can also be dangerous for adults that have other respiratory conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

And though respiratory issues are certainly the main focus, other research suggests that the gas could cause additional health problems. Studies in Spain found that nitrogen dioxide exposure from gas cooking appliances in the early years of life or while in the womb was associated with cognitive and attention issues in young children. An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report said that long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide might be associated with cardiovascular issues, diabetes, and cancer, though it’s not clear how much other traffic-related pollutants may contribute.

Beyond the direct health issues, experts are also wary of gas stoves because they contribute to climate change by burning fossil fuels, Levy said.

Even when they’re not running, gas stoves emit over nearly 2 and a half million tons of methane, a greenhouse gas, each year. They also have the potential to contribute to gas leaks that could pose health or safety risks, Levy said.

A Widespread Issue With Disproportionate Effects

Though the negative impacts on human health have been well-documented, researchers wanted to get a better understanding of the actual scope of these issues, said Brady Seals, manager of the carbon-free buildings program at Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and co-author of the study.

“There have been about 50 years of health studies and health research about this link between gas stoves and human health,” Seals told Health. “And the best evidence and the most evidence is around children, and specifically children's asthma.”

Though the study didn't establish causality, Seals and her colleagues used a mathematical equation to determine that 12.7% of these cases are in some way linked to gas stoves.

This equation involved data about how many children in the U.S. have asthma, how many live in households with gas stoves, and the fact that children have a 42% increased risk of having asthma symptoms if they live in a household with a gas stove.

Seals and her fellow researchers also found that the percentage of gas stove-related children’s asthma varied widely depending on location. In Florida, for example, just 9.1% of households with children cook with gas. As a result, the study estimated that only about 3% of asthma cases could be linked to gas stoves. But on the other end of the spectrum, about 21% of children’s asthma cases in Illinois can be linked to gas stove usage, as nearly 80% of families with kids in Illinois use the appliance.

Though people with asthma and other respiratory issues are more at risk of developing health issues from gas stove exposure, there are other disparities that exist.

About 43% of households with children have gas stoves, as compared to 35% of U.S. households generally, Seals said, meaning that more children are exposed to this health hazard than the population at large. Kids are also generally more susceptible to air pollution-related illnesses—they have higher breathing rates and their immune and respiratory systems aren’t yet fully developed.

And as asthma rates themselves are often unequal, race can also play a role in who’s most affected by gas stove usage. Black adults and children are more likely than white adults and children to have asthma, meaning they’re more likely to have worse health outcomes if they do have a gas stove.

Socioeconomic status also plays a major role in determining a person’s risk, Levy added.

“Just having a gas stove doesn't tell you precisely what the exposure will be—it depends in part on how big your home is, it depends on the ventilation, and so forth,” he said. “The people who might be at highest risk are those who have smaller homes, who have inadequate ventilation, and who don't have range hoods that vent to the outdoors.”

Smaller, less ventilated homes lead to a quicker buildup of pollutants from gas stoves, which means that people who live in these types of environments may see an unequal brunt of health issues, Levy explained.

Poorer communities are also exposed to more pollutants and environmental hazards in general, and tend to have worse respiratory function. No study seems to have yet determined whether gas stoves have a part in creating these health disparities, or if they’re simply exacerbating the issues that already exist. Risk of gas stove usage, in simple terms however, does not impact every person equally.

How to Mitigate the Health Risks of Gas Stoves

Though there are millions of households with gas stoves, there are things people can do to protect their or their family’s health if they have the option, or if they so choose.

The most obvious—and most invasive—option would be to replace your gas stove with an induction or electric stove. But this isn't necessarily feasible for everyone.

“If you're a renter, it's obviously more challenging than if you're a homeowner and it does come with a cost,” Levy said. “So for some folks, it's a clear and logical step to do a stove swap out. And for others [where] it's not viable, it’s really about trying to reduce your exposure as much as possible.”

If you have a range hood attached to your gas stove—which can vent nitrogen dioxide and other fumes out of the kitchen—it’s smart to always turn that on while you’re cooking, not just after you burn something, Seals said. Simply opening up the windows for a few minutes while you cook on a gas stove can also help, too, she added.

Or, people can of course get a bit more creative. Seals said trying to do more cooking with plug-in appliances (think: rice cookers, electric kettles, crock pots, or toaster ovens) is a good way to reduce exposure to your gas stove. So is ditching your gas stove altogether and just purchasing a single or double burner induction cooktop—Seals has opted for this in her own home.

These small fixes are likely a more helpful thing to be talking about, rather than this big conversation about whether to ban gas stoves altogether, Levy said.

"Any type of even hypothetical ban on gas stoves would only be for new purchases,” Levy said. “There's a lot of homes out there with gas stoves, including many vulnerable rental households. And we should focus on how to best reduce their exposures in the short term.”

Right now, the Inflation Reduction Act does have funding for electric appliance rebates if people are interested in replacing their gas stoves.

But if there were to be any governmental legislation to crack down on gas stove usage, it would probably come in the form of updated building codes, Seals guessed, kind of like what’s happened in Berkeley, California.

“Berkeley in 2019 was the first city that said, ‘Any new construction can't have gas in it,’” Seals said. “Since that time, we've seen actually 94 cities and communities either require or prefer electric in their building codes—and this is across nine states and D.C. We estimate that about 31 million people are already living in a community where that's the case.”

There’s also been a recent push to increase the amount of government regulations so that nitrogen dioxide exposure can be limited. In October, a petition was sent by housing and climate activists asking the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to phase out gas stoves in public housing.

Seals also hopes that the CPSC can better regulate gas stoves so that manufacturers have to meet much stricter standards of emission levels for nitrogen dioxide and other harmful fumes.

“We've seen correspondence between the EPA and the CPSC from 1986, raising the alarm on the potential health impacts from gas stoves. So it's not like these agencies didn't know about it ever, but definitely nothing has happened,” Seals said. “We haven't been protected by the agencies that are supposed to better regulate those products.”

But until these things can be better regulated or phased out to protect Americans’ health, spreading the word about the problem and the tips to reduce exposure is an important place to start.

“I'm not suggesting that anyone rip their stove out,” Seals said. “That's of course a personal choice. But when the stove dies or when it's time to replace it, I think that's a really good time to have already thought about what kind of alternatives you might want."

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