How Bad Are Gas Stoves for Human Health?
By Jane Marsh
Few could have anticipated gas stoves becoming a part of the culture wars, but emerging studies on their environmental and human health impacts have caused just that. The warnings are nothing new — experts have expressed concern about gas stoves’ harmful emissions for decades.
Yet, the latest debate regarding the science has some wondering whether the health effects of gas stoves are truly enough to warrant product bans. Let’s take a closer look.
The invention of the gas stove dates back to 1836, when a British inventor touted its easy upkeep and operations. Before gas stoves were available, users had to keep a constant eye on their wood- or coal-powered cooktops to ensure they stayed hot. However, their popularity didn’t take off until tapping into the gas pipe channels and the development of oven thermostats in the 1930s.
Decades later, in 1983, Congress considered regulating gas appliances during hearings on indoor air pollution per the Clean Air Act. To counter the scientific evidence on human health risks generated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the industry conducted its own research and hired experts to argue and prevent additional restrictions.
Eventually, efforts to issue new regulations fizzled out as the federal government leaned into natural gas for residences and businesses. That hasn’t stopped scientists from sounding the alarm, though. According to research, gas appliances produce methane and other harmful contaminants that significantly contribute to climate change and air pollution.
Natural gas may profoundly affect Americans’ daily lives for heat and power, but many have heeded warnings. The American Housing Survey indicates that only 39% of the 142 million households in the U.S. continue using gas stoves, while 60% of homeowners transitioned to electric cooktops.
In January 2023, CPSC commissioner Richard Trumka, Jr. once again proposed taking regulatory action against the future production of gas stoves, causing pushback from several companies, politicians and their constituents. However, Trumka’s stance isn’t entirely unfounded. Gas stoves emit carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5) that exceed standards governing health agencies have in place.
Consider that indoor air pollution is several times worse than outdoor pollution levels. While some air purifiers can kill bacteria and viruses and trap contaminants as small as 0.30 microns, they can’t purify the air of everything.
Natural gas is particularly dangerous when burned at high temperatures. Even when stoves aren’t on, gas leaks contain the carcinogenic benzene — a cancer-causing compound. Meanwhile, gas stoves produce PM2.5 at 2.5 microns or smaller — too small for air purification.
Researchers have also found that gas stoves emit 0.8% to 1.3% of unburned methane — amounting to 28.1% of methane emissions annually from U.S. gas cooktop appliances.
Another study shows that NO2 exposure exacerbates respiratory conditions, especially in young people. About 42% of children in gas-stove households have a higher risk of asthma than those in homes with electric stoves — the equivalent of living with smokers. Nitrogen dioxide also induces coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, with some people requiring hospitalization.
The health implications of gas stoves reach beyond the issue of environmental hazards and poor air quality, currently causing contention among politicians and citizens alike. For some, the health risks are dire and could be a matter of life or death.
Methane gas is one of the most significant contributors to global warming. A recent study found that over three-quarters of methane emissions leaked from gas stoves while they were off. Over 20 years, the yearly methane emissions from gas stoves in U.S. households are equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions from 500,000 cars.
The research underscores a severe problem — gas stoves are as much a climate problem as they are for human health. Between ambient air pollution and poor indoor air quality, there are 4.2 million premature deaths annually from long-term exposure to PM2.5.
Of course, excess emissions from gas stoves trigger several environmental problems, including intensifying storms, droughts, rising sea levels and prolonged heat waves. According to NASA, the last eight years have been the hottest ever recorded, but reducing emissions can slow global warming and reduce its impacts.
If left unchecked, environmental implications will impact populations in alarming ways. In fact, we’re already seeing it play out worldwide, for example:
- About 240 million people will lack clean drinking water by 2050.
- A 57% decline in bee populations due to drought and warmer temperatures jeopardizes crop pollination and the global food supply.
- In the coming century, an additional two feet of sea-level rise will increase flooding in low-lying coastal communities by 700%, primarily affecting low-income Black and Hispanic populations.
- Crop production could decline by 31% by 2070 if current temperature trends hold steady.
- Increasing temperatures exacerbate disease outbreaks and prolong the duration of transmissibility — there will be 140,000 additional malaria cases in Ethiopia for every extra 1° C.
Replacing your gas stove with an eco-friendly model is a relatively minor sacrifice for a healthier planet. Ultimately, environmental harm caused by increased global warming will trickle down to human health and well-being.
Protecting your health should be your number one priority — fortunately, you can purchase an alternative cooktop for your kitchen needs. For instance, a pellet stove is 70%-90% more efficient due to using renewable fuels — wood chips also produce less PM2.5 thanks to proper ventilation.
If pellet stoves aren’t for you, an induction burner or electric stove are other excellent options. People who are used to gas-stove cooking may turn their noses up to electric cooktops, claiming they’re harder to use and achieve the best results.
However, it just takes some getting used to. Unlike gas stoves, combustion from electric-powered stovetop cooking occurs offsite at a power station or another source.
Swapping out your gas stove for an alternative is your prerogative, especially if your current stove top is in working condition. If you refuse to transition to a safer cooktop, you can still reduce your chances of getting sick.
Always turn on your vent hood when using your gas stove to draw out some natural gas. Although vent hoods may not pull all the CO2 and NO2 out of the house, they can capture more minor byproducts.
Opening the windows and turning on the fans will also help circulate air and push contaminants outside.
Supplementing with electric kitchen appliances — such as electric microwaves, toasters and induction cooktops — can prepare you for a complete transition.
Does everything need to cook simultaneously, or can you cook food in increments? The fewer burners you use, the better for reducing emissions and PM2.5.
Also, consider using your gas stove for one-pot cooking — most of these dishes cook longer at a much lower temperature, meaning less gas is burned.
You may plan to get an electric cooktop when your gas stove breaks down on you. If you’re waiting for the day you need to purchase new, start researching the costs and what you’ll need.
Naturally, a new electric stove or induction cooktop is expensive. However, under the Inflation Reduction Act, you may receive tax credits for up to $840 on a safer cooktop or electric wall oven — the legislation also provides an additional credit of up to $500 for rewiring.
Avid cooks may hesitate to remove their gas stoves for an electric cooktop, but protecting their health may be worth the switch. If you’re predisposed to respiratory conditions or cancer, installing a safer cooking appliance may be your best defense against worsening disease.