Dear Dot: Can I safely use my gas stove?

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What can gas stove owners do to protect their family’s health? Dear Dot turns down the temperature on the heated rhetoric and serves up sound advice.

Dear Dot,

I’ve been hearing about the dangers of gas stoves. I’m not particularly attached to mine but I do like it. And it’s not in my family’s budget to replace it with an electric version right now. So what can I do to keep my family safe?

—Holly

Dear Holly,

Your question pulls us into the hot topic of gas stoves and their impact on indoor air pollution, as well as their contribution to our warming planet. It’s a debate that’s got some people boiling mad (primarily but not exclusively natural gas companies and climate deniers) and insisting that, as former White House doctor Ronny Jackson put it in a tweet, “they can pry [my gas stove] from my cold dead hands.” I am unclear whether this is just an homage to Charlton Heston and the NRA or whether Jackson really does wrap his arms around his gas stove, in which case nitrogen oxide emissions might be the least of his problems. 

But in the center of all the simmering tensions around gas stoves is this December 2022 peer-reviewed study that was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and that found almost 13% of childhood asthma could be attributed to living in a home with a gas stove. It’s a study that joins the “piles of research spanning decades” that shows a link between gas stoves and respiratory and cardiovascular conditions in those who live in a home with one, according to Rebecca Leber, a climate reporter with Vox who’s been covering this topic long before it was cool. Or hot.

Why the heated debate around something as ordinary as a stove? For one thing, the natural gas industry has been playing the long game, using movie stars and more recently influencers to convince all of us that gas stoves are a status symbol. Gas stoves are simply better, we’ve been told. 

The house us Dots currently inhabit had a gas stove when we bought it, which thrilled me. It was temperamental and I said a silent prayer that I wouldn’t burn down the house each time I lit a burner. I did singe the hair off my arm at one point (the smell of burning human hair is awful, incidentally) and we finally invested in an induction stove a few years ago, which heats up water for my tea in an almost unbelievably short period of time and doesn’t burn my cookies. But, of course, the option of an electric stove isn’t immediately available to many whether because of budget constraints or because they are renters, so I appreciate your reasonable question, Holly. And I am hopeful that many more Bluedot readers are simply interested in learning how best to protect themselves and their families from any negative health effects from the use of gas stoves and not that they have unhealthy relationships with said gas-powered appliances. That second issue is beyond the scope of my expertise.

But first, let us clarify a few things: For one, though there has been considerable chatter in the media about a ban on gas stoves, a ban is highly unlikely. Racialized and low-income households would be most affected by such an action — I trust that cooler heads will prevail. 

The Consumer Protection Safety Commission released a statement that it’s exploring ways to address the health risks, as well as strengthening voluntary safety standards. Any regulations, the CPSC notes, will apply to new stoves.

But that still leaves a significant chunk of the US population — about 40% — with a gas stove in their kitchen and, for some at least, children in the home as well. What, specifically, is the problem? Gas stoves emit nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and fine particulate matter in amounts that the Environmental Protection Agency considers “significant”. Gas stoves also emit much more methane than acknowledged by the EPA, according to a Stanford University study, released just over a year ago. Methane is a potent climate-warming greenhouse gas and, what’s more, researchers noted that 80% of a gas stove’s methane emissions are released when the stove is turned off. So we have plenty of reasons to applaud a shift toward electric appliances, particularly as the grid powering those appliances becomes increasingly made up of renewable energy sources

When you are ready to replace a gas stove, there are rebates available (thank you, Inflation Reduction Act!). 

In the meantime, although you can’t do much about what your gas stove is emitting, you can take steps to improve the air quality in your kitchen despite those emissions:

Ventilation

Turn on your exhaust hood if you have one but even the best range hoods — vented to the outside — only capture 30% of pollution. Most of us cooking with gas stoves don’t. It doesn’t make a huge difference — especially if yours isn’t vented to the outside — but it does make some. Crack open a window or an outside door when you’re cooking. If possible, situate your stove close to outside ventilation. 

If you do have an exhaust hood, using back burners makes any emissions more likely to be vented.

Detection

You likely have a carbon monoxide detector in your home already (if not, please install one right away!), but most only sound the alarm if CO is present in large enough quantities to kill. A better detector sounds the alarm even at lower incidence to remind you to create ventilation. 

Alternatives

Avoid using your gas stove whenever possible. A small countertop electric induction burner means that you don’t need your stove to fry up some eggs or boil water for pasta. (Note that you’ll need metal pots and pans for induction burners — but my fave standby, cast iron, works fine.) And consider other countertop appliances, such as an air fryer (Best. Wings. Ever. Also salmon!). Slow cooker. Electric kettle. Toaster oven. As a bonus, countertop appliances tend to sip energy rather than gulp it, lowering your energy consumption and your bills.

And before you get hot under the collar and join the angry social media mobs insisting that gas stoves are a sacred right, let’s all pause for a moment and consider the words of Maya Angelou: When we know better, we do better. 

Inductively,

Dot

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1 COMMENT

  1. After reading this, I’m going to go out and get a cast iron pan — this weekend.. I assumed they didn’t work with induction cooking, like my All-Clad pans. I’ve been reduced to a crepe pan and a Le Creuset pot (I guess that should have give me a hint ) .

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