Exposure to toxic emissions from gas stoves is giving kids asthma.
A new study that scientists call “eye popping” has found that as many as 650,000 American children have asthma that was caused by breathing in toxic chemicals emitted by gas stoves. That’s about the same number of kids who have gotten asthma from inhaling secondhand smoke.
The findings elevate growing concerns about the dire health consequences of using stoves fueled by natural gas.
Research conducted at Harvard’s Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment (C-Change) previously discovered that natural gas used in home stoves contains “at least 21 hazardous air pollutants that may impact air quality and health.” Among those pollutants is nitrogen dioxide, which is known to trigger asthma and other respiratory ailments.
In the current study, reported in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, researchers found that one in eight cases of childhood asthma—12.7%—is caused by the nitrogen dioxide and other indoor air pollutants that gas stoves release.
“We knew this was a problem but we didn’t know how bad,” said Brady Seals, a scientist at RMI, a nonprofit that conducted the research along with epidemiologists in the US and Australia.
Natural gas stoves are used in about 40% of homes in the US. The fossil fuel has long been blamed for its contribution to climate change, but the understanding of the impact it has due to use in stoves has only recently been measured. A study by Stanford University found that, during a 20-year timeframe, annual methane emissions from all gas stoves in US homes have a climate impact comparable to the annual carbon dioxide emissions of 500,000 cars. That’s in part because, regardless of the age of the stove and whether or not it is being used, it can still leak natural gas into the air.
The RMI study is one of the first to document the link between gas stove emissions and childhood asthma.
This is an environmental justice issue as well. Black and Hispanic children are twice as likely as white children to be hospitalized for asthma because poorer households are more likely to have smaller kitchens that lack range hood fans and other proper ventilation.
“This study’s findings are directly relevant to discussions about environmental justice,” said Rob Jackson, one of the Stanford University researchers who studies methane leaks from gas stoves.
“No child should have asthma from breathing pollution from gas stoves when safer electric options are available,” said Jackson.
The safest of those options is to replace the gas stove with an electric model. However, that can be an expensive proposition. The recent Inflation Reduction Act championed by the Biden administration includes a rebate of up to $840 for an electric stove or other electric appliances and up to $500 to help cover the cost of converting from gas to electric.
The Biden administration is also considering how to regulate new gas stoves. “This is a hidden hazard,” Richard Trumka Jr. of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission tweeted. “Any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.” While the Clean Air Act gives EPA authority to regulate outdoor air pollution, the agency is not empowered to regulate indoor air pollution from stoves and other appliances.
Until consumers replace their gas appliances with electric ones, they can take several steps to reduce the build-up of gas-related indoor air pollution. Among the simplest and cheapest is to use the fan on the range hood to suck emissions up and out of the kitchen when the stove is being used. It’s especially effective to turn on the range fan before turning on the stove or oven. Keeping kitchen windows cracked open to improve ventilation will also help. An electric kettle, toaster oven, slow cooker, microwave, and single-burner induction cooktop provide additional ways to avoid using a gas range.TELL EPA: FINALIZE STRONG METHANE RULES TO PROTECT CHILDREN’S HEALTH