Gas stoves have been used to cook food in American homes since the 1800s, so they are nothing new. An estimated 40 million homes still use them over a century past their introduction. However, scrutiny over the popular appliances for their environmental and health impacts has been steadily building over decades.
A new study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in December 2022 finds that 12.7 percent of cases of childhood asthma in the United States could be due to gas stoves in the home. The researchers from the US and Australia estimate 650,000 people under 18 could be affected. Gas stoves can produce and emit dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, methane, benzene, and nitrogen dioxide, especially if they are used in poorly ventilated spaces and aren’t properly maintained. According to a study published in January 2022, they can leak methane (a planet-warming gas) even when they are turned off.
Brady Seals, manager of the carbon free buildings program at RMI and a co-author of the study, told The Guardian that the prevalence of asthma due to gas stoves is similar to the amount of asthma caused by secondhand smoke. She called these findings “eye popping,” adding, “We knew this was a problem but we didn’t know how bad. This study shows that if we got rid of gas stoves we would prevent 12.7 percent of childhood asthma cases, which I think most people would want to do.”
The study used 2019 US Census data to determine the proportion of children exposed to pollution from gas stoves, borrowing this method from a 2018 analysis that found that gas cooking ranges in Australia could be attributable for 12.3 percent of childhood asthma cases. The team also used data from an analysis in 2013 that found children in homes with gas stoves were 42 percent more likely to have asthmatic symptoms.
“It’s like having car exhaust in a home,” Seals told The Washington Post. “And we know that children are some of the people spending the most time at home, along with the elderly.”
With this analysis, the authors do mention that their findings are based on multiple assumptions, so there is a possibility that the dangers might be either understated or overstated and that principal axis factoring (PAF) analysis does have limitations.
The gas industry has also pushed back against this study, with the American Gas Association saying it used a “headline-grabbing approach” that lacked scientific rigor and that “the claims made in this paper are clearly driven by simple advocacy-based modeling and hypotheticals over the deep and sophisticated analysis we should see in sound science.”
Industry lobbyists and Republican led legislatures have also pushed back hard against plans to phase out the use of gas stoves. Some states and cities like New York have banned the use of gas hookups in new buildings, while others have prevented these changes.
In December 2022, US Consumer Product Safety Commission head Richard Trumka announced that the agency will put out a formal request for information on hazards associated with gas stoves and possible solutions by March.
“We need to be talking about regulating gas stoves, whether that’s drastically improving emissions or banning gas stoves entirely,” Trumka said. “And I think we ought to keep that possibility of a ban in mind, because it’s a powerful tool in our tool belt and it’s a real possibility here.”
The move aligns with efforts to help lower income households and those who rent replace gas stoves. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 does include a rebate of up to $840 for the purchase of new electric induction cooking appliances.