Gas stoves are the latest innocuous item to turn into a culture war symbol, due to rumors that they might, at some point in the future, be banned. But are gas stoves really that bad for us? Are government agents going to come and take them away? And if the health concerns are real, are we doomed?
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The government is not coming to take your gas stove
If you’ve been paying attention to the political controversy, you may have noticed some political figures yelling about how they are prepared to physically defend their gas ranges from government intervention.
There aren’t even any regulations pending
This whole firestorm was ignited when a member of the Consumer Product Safety Commission said in an interview that the CPSC is planning to open a public comment period soon about how and whether to regulate indoor air pollution from gas stoves. This regulation might include include things like warning labels on the stoves or requirements for ventilation when they are installed, but the member also remarked that “products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”
The head of the CPSC clarified that there’s no ban in the works, and that the agency is “exploring new ways to address health risks” including voluntary industry standards.
The link between gas stoves and health concerns is real
So are gas stoves bad for us? Probably! Studies have linked childhood asthma to growing up with a gas stove. The cause-and-effect hasn’t been fully teased out, though. For one thing, kids who breathe the indoor air pollution from gas stoves are often exposed to a lot of outdoor air pollution as well.
But we do know that gas stoves release nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and particulates—all of which are considered indoor air pollution. Cooking on electric and other ranges can also emit particulates, hinting that ventilation for all types of cooking is probably a good idea. But we know that gas stoves create more of these types of air pollution than electric ranges.
All in all, there is good reason to be concerned about the health effects of gas stoves. It’s not a rip-your-stove-out emergency, but if you happen to be shopping for a new stove, you might want to consider electric or induction ranges.
There are ways to mitigate the health concerns
One thing that’s gotten lost in the recent controversy is that gas stoves aren’t a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. If you have a gas stove and are concerned about the health effects, there are things you can do to mitigate the risk.
The biggest one is ventilation. Some stoves are installed with a range hood above them, which sucks air from the vicinity of the stovetop, and blows it…somewhere. This is where it’s worth finding out what kind you have. Some exhaust the air to the outside, while others just blow it back into your face—hopefully after passing it through a filter.
Venting your range hood outside is great if you can swing it—definitely something to consider if you’re renovating your kitchen. In the meantime, consider opening windows or using fans in the room for extra ventilation when you’re cooking. (Some older houses have a fan built into the wall for this purpose.) If you don’t use your range hood because it’s loud and annoying, a quieter range hood could be a good investment.
Another way to address the particulate matter in the kitchen is with a HEPA filtered air purifier. This will pull particulates out of the air, and they tend to run quietly and be unobtrusive.