Why is Everyone Suddenly Talking About Gas Stoves?

Why the Consumer Product Safety Commission is considering acting on the health effects of gas stoves
January 19, 2023

Maybe you’ve noticed an absurd number of headlines recently in your news feeds about gas stoves, asthma, and methane gas emissions. If you’re feeling a little confused about what all the hullabaloo is about, we’ve got you covered. Here’s your handy-dandy guide to the recent gas stove woes.

What Changed to Put Gas Stoves in Headlines?

In mid-December, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced that it was considering health regulations on gas stoves. Why did the CPSC for the first time EVER look into gas stove impacts on public health? A new peer-reviewed research paper in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health released in November 2022 found that more than 12 percent of current childhood asthma cases in the US could be directly attributed to gas stove use.

That’s an incredibly high number. In terms of public health and safety, the nearly 40 percent of US households that use gas stoves for cooking are at a seriously increased health risk. Breathing in nitrogen oxide, formaldehyde, and benzene (natural byproduct of burning methane gas) in an unventilated, enclosed space pose serious health risks to everyone.

This isn’t out of left field, either. The Environmental Protection Agency first urged the CPSC to investigate indoor air pollution from gas stoves way back in 1986. A 2013 analysis of over 40 studies found that children living in homes with gas stoves have a 42 percent increased risk of current asthma symptoms and a 24 percent increased risk of contracting lifelong asthma. Studies included in that analysis date back to 1977.

But what really riled folks up was that the CPSC, in its health regulation consideration, announced that it was considering everything from new performance standards for range hoods, requiring gas stoves to be sold with ducted hoods that vent outdoors, and even a ban on gas stove imports and exports.

That ban on imports and exports got a little misinterpreted. A few weeks ago, Republican lawmakers falsely claimed that the Biden Administration was proposing pulling gas stoves from people’s homes under this new investigation and that sent Americans into a real kerfuffle.

To be clear, even if the CPSC moves forward with this health investigation, it would still be years before any kind of policy or regulations would be enacted. More importantly, at its most extreme, the CPSC would ban gas stove imports and exports, but at no point would they force anyone to switch to electric coil or induction stoves.

That’s an important distinction to make as people take to Twitter and comment sections proclaiming that Biden can pry their gas stoves from their cold, dead hands.

It’s an extreme statement, from an extreme viewpoint, and doesn’t reflect the real regulation possibilities that could come from the CPSC in the coming years. No one is coming for the gas stove in your house. If you want to keep using your stove, keep using it.

Why Are We So Worked Up About Stoves?

Perhaps during a time of extreme polarization, it’s no surprise that we’ve managed to divide ourselves (and craft deep identities) yet again over something as seemingly banal as a stove.

The fossil fuel industry spent decades convincing Americans that gas stoves were the superior cooking method, dropping millions on marketing campaigns and influencers to ensure their product gained an outsized, nearly unmovable place in the market. And it worked. Americans became so sold on the gas stove that parting with it now holds the same emotional weight as, say, parting with the family pet. The gas industry worked very hard to ensure that we LOVE our gas stoves and that we should HATE anyone or anything that threatens our relationship to this highly polluting beast.

As someone who once refused to move into a rental if it didn’t have a gas stove, let me just say that I get it. I too had a love affair with gas. Even though a close friend was an air quality engineer who regularly physically showed me on his handheld air quality monitor just how bad my stove was making the indoor air, I still didn’t quite believe him. How bad can these stoves really be if they’re so ubiquitous?

It turns out, very, very bad.

You know what else was ubiquitous in American life for years and years? Leaded gasoline. Asbestos. DDT. We learn from new science and we can and should make new choices based on new information.

It also would be unfair not to acknowledge that the Great Gas Stove Debacle of 2023 has a lot less to do with health impacts (I mean, c’mon, who among us wants to purposefully send ourselves to an early grave, or give our own children asthma?) and a lot more to do with our political identities related to climate change.

While these well-studied health impacts are VERY real, they’re also fuel on the fire (pun intended) in the push to transition off of fossil fuels altogether and move rapidly toward renewable energy. That’s where the politics come in.

We’ve been working for years to get gas out of homes and buildings because buildings generate about 40 percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions. Removing these emissions would set us on track to actually tackle the climate crisis. The fact that burning methane in your home ALSO deeply impacts human health is just another nail in the coffin for the fossil fuel industry.

But the incredibly successful persuasive work of the fossil fuel industry to polarize us has now put Americans in a disturbing position: Pick the side working to tackle climate change, or put your health at extreme risk to prove a political point. That’s what we mean when we say the fossil fuel industry puts profit over people.

What Should I Do About My Gas Stove?

Now, with all of that said,

  1. Replace your gas stove with induction or another electric cooktop — This is obviously the most expensive option and won’t be available to everyone. The Inflation Reduction Act includes rebates for folks switching off of gas and you can calculate how much you could receive through Rewiring America’s new IRA rebate calculator. By the way, induction cooktops are very different from the radiant heat electric cooktops you might be more familiar with. Induction cooktops can often boil water faster than, and match the precision and responsiveness of, their gas counterparts.Also, you don’t have to go all induction or nothing — there are single- and double-burner induction cooktops available for $70 and up. You can just plug one of those in and get cooking right away!
  2. Always use your exhaust hood (or install one if you don’t have one) — Range hoods that vent outside can help reduce indoor air pollutants. However, a study from UCLA notes that fewer than 35 – 54 percent of households actually use their range hoods while cooking (and gas companies rarely express the necessity of proper ventilation hoods to use their products). Other range hoods don’t cover all the burners and still others have only recirculating fans (which just pushes the pollution around the house) or no range hood at all. Make sure your exhaust hood actually vents outdoors and adequately covers the surface of your stovetop.
  3. Ventilate in other ways — Open up windows and bring fresh air in while cooking to dilute the pollution particles.
  4. Buy (or make) an air purifier — Again, not the cheapest option, but an air purifier with HEPA filters placed near your kitchen can help reduce the air pollution in your home.

How to Take Action With RE Sources

Through our 100% Northwest campaign, RE Sources is working to transition Northwest Washington to a 100% clean energy future by 2030, for our own health and for the planet’s. By building clean energy, funding clean energy, and bringing more clean energy online, we can make this dream a reality. If you haven’t taken our 100% Northwest Pledge yet, that’s a great place to start.

You can also join the Electrify Whatcom County Facebook group for tips, tricks, and community discussion about electrifying homes, picking the best electric appliances, and finding contractors to help make the transition happen.

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Photo © Buff Black