Gas stoves are used by millions of people across the United States every day. But in the last two weeks, this common household appliance has ignited an intense debate online about the health effects associated with gas stove emissions and a potential ban to mitigate them.
Earlier this month, a commissioner with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission told Bloomberg News about a potential ban on gas stoves, calling them “hidden hazards,” due to health and climate concerns, NBC News reported on Jan. 10. Gas stoves and the idea of the government banning them quickly became a hot button topic, garnering support and opposition from a range of stakeholders.
The same CPSC commissioner, Richard Trumka Jr., later clarified in a tweet that any regulations on gas stoves would only apply to new appliances (as opposed to existing gas stoves in peoples’ homes).
In a follow-up statement, CPSC chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric wrote that he is “not looking to ban gas stoves and the CPSC has no proceeding to do so. … Research indicates that emissions from gas stoves can be hazardous, and the CPSC is looking for ways to reduce related indoor air quality hazards.”
Even the Biden Administration chimed in. At a White House briefing on Jan. 11, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated that “the president does not support banning gas stoves,” NBC News reported.
On Jan. 18, the American Public Health Association published a policy statement that was passed in November 2022 which deems gas stove emissions a “public health concern.”
The discourse about about gas stoves and a potential ban comes weeks after a peer-reviewed study linking gas stove use and childhood asthma was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
In the study, researchers from the Rocky Mountain Institute concluded that 12.7% of current childhood asthma nationwide is attributed to gas stove use.
“It’s not saying every kid who lives in a home with a gas stove is going to have asthma, but the risk is higher,” Brady Seals, co-author of the study and a manager at RMI’s carbon free buildings program, tells TODAY.com. In other words, says Seals, removing gas stoves could potentially reduce this risk.
About 35% of U.S. households cook with gas, and the proportion of households with children cooking with gas is even higher (about 43%), says Seals.
While the observational study from RMI found that gas stoves have a strong relationship with childhood asthma, says Seals, it did not prove causality, which would require an interventional study, such as a randomized controlled trial, she adds.
The American Gas Association was quick to point out in a statement that the study wasn’t based on “real-life appliance usage,” adding in part: “Attempts to generate consumer fears with baseless allegations to justify the banning of natural gas is a misguided agenda that will not improve the environment or the health of consumers and would saddle vulnerable populations with significant costs.”
The RMI study findings add to mounting evidence that gas stove emissions could be hazardous to our health. So what do we know about the health effects of gas stoves so far and how can you lower these risks for yourself and your family?
Which gases and pollutants are emitted from gas stoves?
Gas stoves inside homes burn natural gas in order to produce the heat to cook food. “It’s burning fossil fuel in our homes,” says Seals. Gas stoves emit a number of gases, some more hazardous than others, the experts note.
“There are increasing studies that confirm NOx (nitrogen oxide) gases and other pollutants are formed in the flames of gas stoves,” Rob Jackson, Ph.D., a professor of earth system science at Stanford University, tells TODAY.com.
“Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is the primary gas that we’re concerned about right now,” says Jackson. NO2 is produced by burning fuel, and emissions also come from cars, trucks, furnaces and power plants, he explains.
“These are the same pollutants we’re concerned about when you have major truck routes near your house and other combustion sources,” adds Matt Perzanowski, Ph.D., an associate professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University specializing in asthma, tells TODAY.com.
Other pollutants from gas stoves include carbon monoxide and formaldehyde, but Jackson says there’s less evidence that those two gases reach high enough concentrations in people’s kitchens and homes to harm health.
In a 2022 study, Jackson and his colleagues at Stanford found that gas stoves are constantly emitting methane, which is a climate-warming greenhouse gas, per the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We found that gas stoves leak methane when they’re off, every time the burner turns on or off there is a puff of unburned gas, and when the flame is on a small amount of methane goes unburned into the atmosphere,” says Jackson. When added up, the annual methane emissions from gas stoves in the U.S. are estimated to be equivalent to the emissions from half a million cars in one year, Jackson adds.
Gas stoves also emit another greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. “The No. 1 impact of any gas appliance for climate is the carbon dioxide pollution from burning the gas,” says Jackson.
The main health concern with gas stoves, Jackson continues, is that they’re the only appliance that vents pollution directly into the home. “We’re starting to have clear data now on the concentrations (of nitrogen dioxide) reached in peoples’ kitchens and homes from gas stoves and (the level of) exposure,” says Jackson.
What is the link between gas stoves and asthma?
Research into the potential health effects of the gases emitted from gas stoves has been going on for decades, says Seals. “There’s 50 years of health evidence where again and again, this link between gas stoves and childhood asthma has been made,” Seals adds.
The primary gas of concern, nitrogen dioxide, can be toxic to the airways in the lungs, Dr. Christy Sadreameli, a pediatric pulmonologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, tells TODAY.com. This harmful pollutant can be irritating to anybody’s lungs, Sadreameli says, but it more significantly affects people who have sensitive lungs (for example, asthma patients).
“We know from research studies that (NO2) is associated with increased respiratory symptoms in children and adults, and increased levels of NO2 in a home is associated with increased asthma symptoms,” says Sadreameli. Children living in a home with a gas stove are more likely to be diagnosed with asthma as well, Sadreameli adds.
As Perzanowski put it: “It seems plausible that gas stoves are potentially causing asthma symptoms in residents and that potentially removing the gas stoves would would reduce asthma symptoms, but to my knowledge, it hasn’t been demonstrated.”
The increased risk of asthma associated with gas stoves is similar to children’s risk of asthma from being exposed to secondhand smoke, says Seals. “I think that helps put it into context because most of us know that children being exposed to secondhand smoke is not good for their health,” she explains.
Perzanowski agrees that existing research supports this assertion about “passive smoke” and adds that the evidence about the risk of NO2 and asthma is strongest for younger kids in elementary school, but it’s not clear if the risk goes away as kids age.
The gases and chemicals emitted from gas stoves have also been linked to cancer, NBC News previously reported. “They leak benzene. Benzene is a carcinogen and is considered a problem as well for human health,” Sadreameli says.
The amount of NO2 and other harmful pollutants you are exposed to as a result from cooking with a gas stove is highly dependent on the specific circumstance in which it’s being used, Darby Jack, Ph.D., an associate professor at Columbia University Medical Center, tells TODAY.com.
“(It depends) on the style of cooking and the ventilation and how well the stove has been maintained, where people are standing — there’s a long list of factors,” Jack says.
How to mitigate the health risks associated with gas stoves
Although electrification (switching from gas to electric) is the most effective way to reduce or eliminate your exposure to NO2 and other pollutants, the experts note, replacing a gas stove with an electric or induction stove is not a realistic solution for many people.
“I was personally motivated enough by the pollution measurements we took at my house to replace my gas stove immediately … that doesn’t mean that everybody should do that,” Jackson says. The experts acknowledge there are financial and logistical barriers to electrification, depending on the person and the home.
If you have a gas stove, there are actions you can take every day to mitigate exposure to gas stove emissions and the associated health risks, says Sadreameli. “Gas stove awareness is just one more tool in our arsenal. … the good news is it’s something people can have some control over,” she adds.
Ventilation is always important while using a gas stove, the experts note, whether this is from a range hood or opening a window. If your kitchen does have a range hood, the vent should be turned on the highest setting while cooking on a gas stove, says Sadreameli.
“Unfortunately, the studies on range hoods show that it doesn’t reduce an NO2 a lot. … It might help some, but it definitely helps get other harmful (pollutants) from cooking out of the air,” says Sadreameli.
Air filters or purifiers can also help remove some of the pollutants emitted by gas stoves from the air in your home. “One study showed that using a HEPA filter with activated carbon can actually work pretty well to remove NO2 from the air,” Sadreameli adds.
Another option is using your gas stove less often, especially if you have family members or children with asthma in the home, the experts note.
If there is an asthmatic child in the home, parents should speak to a health care professional and ensure their child is on the right preventive medication regimen, Sadreameli says. “Asthma comes in a lot of different severities, and it can wax and wane in severity over the lifetime, so it’s just really important to follow up with their doctor,” Sadreameli adds.
According to their latest statement, CPSC is currently researching gas emissions from stoves and exploring new ways to address health risks. “CPSC also is actively engaged in strengthening voluntary safety standards for gas stoves,” the CPSC chair wrote.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com