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Pies in the Oven, Problems in the Air

Wed, 11/15/2023 - 18:00


With lots of Thanksgiving cooking about to take over kitchens, it is a very good time to take another look at gas stoves. This is both for health reasons and the environment. Scientists and health providers have long known about risks associated with fumes given off when the burners are on, and in some cases, even when they are off. In addition, natural gas and propane have a big influence on climate change. In the short term, individuals should be sure to have adequate ventilation in kitchens. Longer-term, switching from gas stoves to electric appears essential. The risks of not doing so are serious.

Research that looked at harmful nitrogen dioxide levels from cooking found it within three parts per billion of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s safety limit for sensitive people. Indoor food preparation using gas is thought to contribute to about 13 percent of childhood asthma cases — about equivalent to the rate from secondhand smoke.

Gas stoves also release benzene, a known carcinogen; a recent study of the amount produced during cooking revealed that it moves throughout homes, in some cases elevating bedroom concentrations above chronic health benchmarks for hours after the stove was turned off. Benzene exposure causes both cancer and noncancerous health effects. Shorter-term benzene exposure suppresses blood cell production, and chronic benzene exposure increases the risk of leukemia and lymphoma. Air pollution from tiny particles also from cooking can aggravate heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, and diabetes. Alarmingly, as the United States population gets older, more people will age into the ranks of the vulnerable, increasing the danger.

By far the largest proportion of greenhouse gas effects comes from carbon dioxide, followed by methane, then NO2 — all of which come from, or are associated with, producing and using gas. Policymakers know that more Americans should be switching to electric cooking appliances, especially those that use induction as a safe and clean heat source. Induction stoves are expensive, then again, so is natural gas and propane. However, when the societal costs associated with treating illnesses are factored in, government subsidies for conversion make a lot of sense.

New York State was the first state to pass a law banning gas stoves and other gas-powered appliances in new buildings, including houses and apartment buildings. Upstream, though, the benefit will depend greatly on the rate at which electrical generation moves away from fossil fuels. Funding will be key. Later this year, federal rebates of up to $840 for electric stoves, cooktops, and ovens, are expected to bring the cost of conversion from gas or propane within the reach of many more people. The rebates will cover up to $500 for installation; up to $1,600 for insulation, air sealing, and ventilation, up to $2,500 for wiring upgrades, and up to $4,000 for new “smart” circuit breaker panels.

The money is part of a $4.5 billion package for electric appliances set aside in landmark clean-energy provisions in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act. Though many details have yet to be released, the rebates should be available to households making up to 150 percent of their local median income, a number calculated every year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is promising, but the experts advise waiting to buy until the terms of the rebates become clear.

The point is to consider switching to electric if you can, but not right away, and, in the meantime, keep those vent fans on full or open a window or two whenever the stove is on. Good ventilation to the outdoors is important — especially when the Thanksgiving turkey is roasting for hours on end in the oven.


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