Did you know the gas we pipe into our homes is
often far from harmless? “Natural" gas--now increasingly
referred to as "fossil" gas--is mostly made up of methane, a
major contributor to climate change. Then, burning it creates carbon
pollution, the main reason why our planet is warming. But the
danger doesn't stop there.
When gas leaks occur—and a study last year found that most gas stoves leak, even when they are turned off--an array of other nasty pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, benzene, formaldehyde, and particulate matter also escape. These substances have been linked to a variety of health problems, including asthma, cancer, and heart disease. Children’s developing lungs are especially vulnerable.
Given these risks, it's no surprise that more and more people are questioning the wisdom of running gas lines into our homes to power gas stoves and other appliances. As always, though, there is hope: people are taking action and there’s plenty you can do.
The indoor pollution caused by gas stoves is
bad to say the least. Kids who live in homes with gas stoves are six
times more likely to develop asthma, and a recent study suggests that
gas stoves contribute to about 13 percent of childhood asthma cases
in the U.S., equivalent to the risk of
developing asthma due to exposure from secondhand smoke. And exposure to the
hazardous chemicals like nitrous oxides, carbon dioxide, and formaldehyde
released by burning natural gas exacerbates respiratory and
cardiovascular health problems for everyone, including adults.
When you are cooking with gas, invisible pollutants can easily reach levels that would be illegal outdoors. Canadian chemists who took air readings in homes using gas stoves found shockingly high amounts of nitrous oxide in the air after cooking — and that the toxins lingered for several hours afterward at levels that exceeded Health Canada guidelines for a one-hour exposure. Stanford researchers found that the levels of benzene released by cooking on a gas stove can reach higher than those found in secondhand tobacco smoke, and like smoke, the benzene pollution can spread throughout the home.
And what about the methane constantly emitted by gas stoves, whether they are in use or not? Another Stanford study found that those leaks — from 40 million gas stoves across the U.S. — have a climate impact comparable to adding half a million gas-powered cars to the roads.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Always run your stove hood when
you use it, and double check that your hood ventilates to the outdoors, rather
than just recirculating the air within your home. Use HEPA air filters in
your home, and if the weather allows, open the windows while you are cooking.
Or, you can try to use alternate methods of cooking more often.
There are also efforts underway to make the transition to an electric stove more affordable. In the United States, the Inflation Reduction Act offers refunds of up to $840 for the purchase of an electric stove or oven. In Canada, the Energy Savings Rebate program covers 25 percent of your purchase of efficient appliances including induction stoves.
And don’t forget to use your voice: help others make the switch by advocating for government subsidies like the IRA or ESR, or support regulations like those in California and New York that will give more people access to clean indoor air and reduce our emissions of heat-trapping gases.
It isn’t just about stoves. Furnaces, water heaters, and other gas-powered appliances also leak methane and other air pollutants. At least two of my colleagues, Gaurab Basu and Leah Stokes, have fully electrified their lives already, and want to help others do so, too.
Anything we can do to move away from using natural gas and go “all electric” in our daily lives is a win in the battle against climate change, especially as we continue to add more and more renewable energy to the electric grid!
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