When you think of fossil fuels, what do you think of? Most people think of tailpipe emissions, fracking, coal- or gas-fired power plants, pipelines, and all the other scary things on the news. But from now on, we’ll also think about the gas stoves in our kitchens.
A few weeks ago, we both got our gas stoves tested by DC’s Beyond Gas campaign. They’ve been conducting a “citizen science” investigation, testing the levels of nitrogen dioxide emitted into people’s homes from the gas stoves in their kitchens.
When gas is burned on the stove, a cocktail of harmful chemicals is released to cause indoor air pollution. Among those released is the major pulmonary irritant, nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which causes and worsens asthma, lung diseases, COPD, and hypertension. It was NO2 we were testing for in our homes.
We went to Samantha’s apartment first. The investigator turned on two of the stove burners and the oven for about 30 minutes, which resulted in testing NO2 levels of 76 parts per billion. This was within the “moderate” safety range of 50–100 parts per billion according to EPA guidance.
“Although my levels of NO2, were relatively tame, I have asthma, so it makes me think twice about how often I use the stove and has made me even more motivated to get involved with the fight for electrification,” Sam explained.
The dimensions of her kitchen and ventilation were also measured and noted, since the size of the space likely impacts the distribution and duration of pollutants in the air.
Unfortunately, the NO2 test results in Danielle’s apartment were much more alarming. At only 15 minutes, NO2 levels in her kitchen had already reached over 400 parts per billion. Her stove produced the highest emissions the Beyond Gas coalition had seen.
Since then, Danielle has looked at her kitchen a lot differently. She’s been reluctant to use her stove given these harmful levels of indoor pollution but is glad that she learned of the exposure just a few months after moving into her apartment.
“Although it was overwhelming to learn the reality of indoor pollution I was breathing in my studio apartment, it was also empowering to be equipped with that knowledge so that I could take the steps to protect my health,” Danielle shared.
“For renters like us, it is frustrating that landlords and building owners are not aware of the pollutants and harm associated with gas stoves,” says Danielle. NO2 emissions are overlooked during safety inspections, which raises questions as to what responsibility tenants and building owners have as well as what role the government should play in regulating these harmful pollutants.
After talking to her landlord about the problem without much success, Danielle turned to the Beyond Gas campaign to ask for ways to mitigate the pollution without spending much money. While making the switch from gas to electric takes time, resources, and awareness, there are a number of viable alternatives that can be implemented in the short run. Using appliances that you may already have, like electric tea kettles, toasters, air fryers, or induction burners, can reduce your usage of gas stoves altogether. And when using the stove, it’s important to maximize ventilation through opening windows and doors, turning on a microwave hood if you have one, using an exhaust fan near a window, and anything else to better vent the space.
The DC Beyond Gas campaign has already had major legislative success and is continuing to grow in strength. So far, their advocacy has helped enact two landmark climate laws, including the Climate Commitment Act of 2021, which codifies DC’s 2050 carbon neutrality commitment, as well as the Clean Energy DC Building Code Amendment Act, which makes new construction subject to net zero energy standards.
For those in the Washington, DC, area who are interested in getting their stove tested, fill out this form. For those outside the DC area, we encourage you to investigate your own local legislation on gas appliances. Communities around the country have formed coalitions to fight this major source of indoor air pollution and have made huge strides at the local level.