There have been a lot of recent headlines linking natural gas stoves with respiratory illness, and regulatory agencies are now pointing toward bans on their use in the future. But does the research match the alarmism in the news?
No, it does not. The body of research spanning multiple decades indicates that cooking with natural gas is safe and not a significant determinant of residential indoor air quality or associated health effects.
CALIFORNIA ADMITS ITS CLIMATE PLAN ENRICHES WEALTHY AND IMPOVERISHES POOR
I recently led an in-depth analysis of dozens of peer-reviewed studies and government assessments. We found scant evidence to support recent headlines suggesting a link between natural gas cooking and unhealthy indoor air quality.
The analysis, commissioned by the California Restaurant Association and the California Building Industry Association, looked at the body of research on residential indoor air quality, gas stove use, and emissions data. The research shows that the type of appliance used to cook food is not a major determinant of indoor air quality. Rather, the act of cooking, including the food type and use of oils, is the more important factor, while other conditions such as cooking temperatures and time are also significant. As for solutions, ventilation is the most practical one for dealing with any concerns about emissions from cooking, regardless of stove type.
It’s also worth noting that although there are air emissions associated with natural gas cooking and with electric stoves, researchers have consistently found that the long-term concentrations in real-life cooking scenarios are well below established health thresholds. After all, it’s not the mere presence of a substance that determines health risk, but rather the concentration of that substance and the frequency and duration of human exposure.
The largest and most robust study to date on this topic is from the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood. This collaborative, worldwide epidemiological project examined the possible association between gas stove use and asthma in over 500,000 schoolchildren from 47 countries. It found that there was “no evidence of an association between the use of gas as a cooking fuel and either asthma symptoms or asthma diagnosis.”
Nonetheless, health claims are rapidly becoming the basis for costly and restrictive limitations on natural gas appliances in regions all over the country. In addition to the body of research suggesting there is no basis for this added burden, we also found that many of the available studies are being inappropriately used to suggest health risks from gas stoves that have not been established.
For example, a recent headline-generating study claiming a connection between natural gas stoves and childhood asthma did not provide any new data or evidence. It was instead based in part on a study that showed no statistically significant relationship between gas stove use and asthma in North America. The study also failed to evaluate other factors, such as use of ventilation or exposure to other pollutants during cooking.
Similarly, another recent study suggests that “indoor air pollution levels are often two to five times, and occasionally more than 100 times, higher than outdoor levels.” However, that finding is based on a 1987 study that did not include any of the compounds released from natural gas combustion and does not even make reference to cooking or gas stoves.
Another highly publicized study from Stanford University measured methane and other emission concentrations from natural gas stoves in an effort to quantify greenhouse gas-causing air emissions. The study did not seek to evaluate health effects. So the team enclosed their test kitchens entirely in plastic sheeting, removed all ventilation, and then turned on the gas. It probably goes without saying that this is a completely unrealistic kitchen environment, and yet it is one of the studies that has been widely cited in the news and even among policymakers to support claims of health effects. But the study didn’t even set out to evaluate health effects.
In contrast to these studies, researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory conducted gas stove emissions sampling in 70 California homes built between 2011 and 2017. All nitrogen dioxide concentrations measured during normal gas stove operation, including the proper use of range hood ventilation, were well below the one-hour time-averaged nitrogen dioxide standard that EPA considers protective of public health.
Proper review and understanding of the evidence should be foundational in establishing public health policies. Based on the available research, it would be incorrect to assert a significant health risk from natural gas cooking, especially when proper ventilation is used.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER
Dr. Tormey is president of Catalyst Environmental Solutions in Santa Monica, Calif.