The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which can issue mandatory standards or ban consumer products if no feasible standard would adequately protect the public, plans to take action to address the gas pollution that has long been linked to health and respiratory problems. Richard Trumka Jr., a U.S. Consumer Product Safety commissioner, tweeted on Monday that “gas stoves can emit dangerous [levels] of toxic chemicals—even when not in use—and @USCPSC will consider all approaches to regulation.”
New regulatory action could require all new homes be built with electric stoves or high efficiency exhaust vents. Trumka told Bloomberg, which first reported the news, that “any option is on the table” and “products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”
Here’s what this means for consumers.
What the CPSC is saying
Despite calls for regulation, CPSC said in a statement to TIME that any regulatory action by the commission would involve a lengthy process, and no action on gas stoves is currently imminent.
The agency plans to open public comment on hazards posed by gas stoves in March, according to the agency’s yearly operating plan. Trumka clarified that the agency would not be able to physically remove gas stoves from everyone’s homes—but instead require all new products to comply with their regulations.
“To be clear, CPSC isn’t coming for anyone’s gas stoves,” Trumka tweeted on Monday. “Regulations apply to new products.”
“For Americans who CHOOSE to switch from gas to electric, there is support available—Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act which includes a $840 rebate,” he added.
Natural gas stoves are currently used in about a third of households in the U.S., or about 40 million homes.
Several lawmakers weighed in on the issue last year, though the debate over gas cooking’s health hazards began nearly 50 years ago when researchers in England and Scotland surveyed the parents of more than 5,000 children and found a positive correlation between gas cooking and asthma symptoms.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat who served as chairman of the House subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy during the last term of Congress, wrote a letter to CPSC in August calling on the agency to establish safety standards and warnings to consumers addressing the health risks posed by indoor air pollution from gas stoves.
“CPSC has the authority either to issue mandatory standards and require warning labels or to work with industry to develop voluntary standards and labels that would address indoor air pollution from gas stoves,” Rep. Krishnamoorthi said. “Despite this authority, the Commission has failed.”
In December, a group of lawmakers including Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, and Rep. Don Beyer, a Virginia Democrat, wrote a letter to CPSC that called gas stove emissions a “cumulative burden” on Black, Latino, and low-income households that are already disproportionately affected by air pollution. The letter states that these communities are “more likely to be located near a waste incinerator or coal ash site, or living in smaller homes with poor ventilation, malfunctioning appliances, mold, dust mites, secondhand smoke, lead dust, pests, and other maintenance deficiencies.”
What the science says
Several studies have found that cooking with gas stoves releases nitrogen dioxide with other tiny airborne particles known as PM2.5—30 times smaller than the width of a human hair—both of which are lung irritants and have been linked with childhood asthma.
A new peer-reviewed study published last month in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that more than 12% of current childhood asthma cases in the U.S. can be attributed to gas stove use. Brady Sears, a manager in the carbon-free buildings program at the nonprofit clean energy group RMI and a co-author of the study, tells TIME that in-home gas cooking produces about the same level of risk for children to develop asthma as does exposure to secondhand smoke.
Certain populations, such as children or people who already have asthma, are more susceptible to diseases from gas stove pollution, Sears says. That’s because children still have developing immune systems and lungs, as well as higher breathing rates than adults. “This gets into the health equity issues since we know asthma is a profoundly unequal disease as Black children are almost three times more likely to have asthma than white children,” Sears says.
Jonathan Levy, the chair of Boston University’s Department of Environmental Health and a professor, tells TIME that there’s increasingly strong evidence that gas stoves can also cause people to develop asthma even if they don’t already have it.
Should you replace your gas stove?
Some households may decide that the cooking benefits of a gas-powered stove are outweighed by the health risks, especially if children with asthma or breathing difficulties are present.
A simple measure parents can take to reduce the harmful effect of gas cooking is to use a high efficiency range hood that carries air contaminants outside rather than recirculating it indoors. Those without an exhaust hood should consider opening their windows during and after cooking, the National Asthma Council recommends.
The federal government does not currently have any laws or guidelines in place that require gas stove emissions be vented outdoors, even though such laws do exist for gas furnaces, water heaters, and dryers. Sears says the CPSC could also decide to implement new rules for gas stove ventilation instead of outright banning the appliances.
“I think having a mandatory performance standard and warning labels on gas stoves would be huge,” she says. “But also making sure stoves are ventilated outdoors. It’s wild to me that our furnaces and water heaters are all vented outdoors but for the one appliance we’re standing in front of it’s not universally required.”
But even if gas stoves are properly ventilated outdoors, users must remember to turn on their vent in order for it to work. Even that may not fully resolve the health risks. A study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology in October found that gas stoves can leak low levels of methane gas and benzene even when not running, meaning exhaust vents may have to be turned on constantly in order to reduce a range of toxic chemicals, including toluene, hexene, and xylenes. A separate study by researchers at Stanford University in early 2022 also found that the concentration of nitrogen dioxide emitted from certain gas burners and ovens rose above the outdoor standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency within a few minutes.
Some households may want to consider using air purifiers in their kitchen to improve indoor air quality, though filters must be replaced often. Others may decide to add a single burner induction cooktop to their kitchen that can be plugged into an outlet and cost as low as $60 to purchase. These portable cooktops can be particularly cost-effective for apartment tenants unable to replace their gas appliances.
“There’s multiple reasons to potentially switch to newer technologies like metal magnetic induction beyond just air quality and health,” Professor Levy says of the way electric induction stoves operate. “It is an important climate step—which is why there are incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act—and there are potentially also cooking benefits that allow you to actually cook faster with magnetic induction than with gas.”
Scientists estimate that the methane leaking from natural gas stoves in the U.S. is equal to the emissions released by half-a-million gasoline-powered cars every year. Just using one gas stove for a year emits on average 649 grams of methane—equivalent to the number of emissions released from driving 40 miles.
But switching from gas to a standard electric stove or other alternative may not reduce your carbon emissions right away, as the practice of cooking generally always emits some pollutants, even if cooking in a microwave or toaster, Sears says.
The massive climate spending bill known as the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law in August, includes a rebate of up to $840 for the purchase of a new electric stove or electric appliances, as well as up to $500 to help cover the cost of converting from gas to electric. Those who make the switch will likely receive that money in the form of a tax credit when filing state and federal income taxes the following year, according to Consumer Reports. Additional state incentives may be available based on residence.
“The best way to eliminate the source of pollutants is to get rid of it—but I’m not telling anyone to go rip out their gas stove now,” Sears says. “When it’s time to replace your gas stove, if it dies, I think considering an electric or an electric induction alternative would ensure that you are removing all of those combustion pollutants from your home as well as methane and the benzene leakage which has been measured in different households.”
How this could impact restaurants
Gas stove regulation has also been a strongly debated topic in the restaurant world, which often relies on gas for cooking.
Andrew Gruel, a California-based chef who appeared as a judge on the Food Network’s Food Truck Face Off, wrote to his more than 176,000 followers on Twitter that the effort to ban gas stoves will hurt restaurants. “We have used gas stoves for hundreds of years,” he said. “This is an overreach based on a subjective hypothesis from a bad study. More fodder in the war on gas that will hurt low-income homes and small biz.”
An outright ban on gas stoves could have a particularly significant impact on Asian restaurants, which often require very hot flash frying that can only be achieved with gas stoves. Korean BBQ, for example, is usually done with gas grills built right into the table, creating a charred taste and spectacle that can’t be achieved the same way over an electric stove.
But some chefs are welcoming the adjustment to electrification. Chris Galarza, a Pittsburgh-area chef and founder of the commercial kitchen consulting company Forward Dining Solutions, says switching to induction stovetops was “the best thing I’ve ever done in my cooking career.” He was introduced to the cooking style while a chef at Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus in Allegheny County, Penn. in 2016, and now works with clients to move their kitchens to induction stoves and electric ovens, with no gas lines or open flames.
“Since switching I found that we have increased production, decreased cleaning time, less amount of chemicals that we’re buying, and we’ve been able to produce more food with less time,” he tells TIME. Guest satisfaction service scores also went up, as did the mental health of employees who often worked in hot environments due to the open flames used in gas cooking, he found.
Induction stovetops, however, can’t necessarily give off the same grilled taste of an open flame gas stove. Restaurant goers looking for charred meats might be hesitant to eat at a place that uses electric grills, but Galarza says it’s possible to achieve a similar flavor without the carcinogens that are created from gas grilling.
“A lot of chefs will say gas is king because that’s how we’ve always done it,” Galarza says. “But we only started cooking with gas the last 100 or so years, so if you’re really concerned with tradition, you’d be cooking on coal or wood—not gas. When it comes down to it, chefs are afraid of change.”
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Contributor: Nik Popli