Gas stoves have been the topic of intense discussion among worried parents, agitated politicians, fervent climate campaigners, and health specialists for the last several weeks, despite the many other pressing issues that exist around the globe.
To begin, in December, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published a study claiming that 12.7 percent of current cases of childhood asthma in the United States can be "attributed" to the use of gas stoves, posing a risk that is comparable to that of secondhand smoke exposure.
The results aren't especially surprising given the common knowledge that gas stoves are a major contributor to the many different types of indoor air pollution that have been linked to an increased risk of asthma. Even so, the news shook many parents to their core because of their fears of condemning their children to a lifetime of coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
About 7.5 million children in the United States have asthma, making it the most common chronic condition among children. The previous 30 years have seen a rise in its incidence across all population subgroups, yet persistent inequalities persist. Black children's mortality rate from asthma in 2019 was eight times that of white children. Black and white children are equally susceptible to the disease.
On the same day, the study came out, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives wrote to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission to request an assessment of the risks posed by gas stoves to the health of Americans, with special emphasis on people of color and the economically disadvantaged, who are disproportionately represented in areas with higher levels of outdoor air pollution and in homes with inadequate ventilation.
Over three weeks later, in an interview with Bloomberg, CPSC commissioner Rich Trumka Jr. referred to gas stoves as a "hidden threat" and suggested that a federal ban on the item was "on the table."
To cut a long story short, the next day, Trumka recanted his earlier statement and stated the CPSC "isn't coming for anyone's gas stoves." The agency head then jumped in two days later to say that he has no intention of banning the appliances but that the agency is looking at measures to address the health hazards they pose, such as "strengthening voluntary safety requirements."
Now that we're all caught up, let's get down to business: Yes, scientific studies have proven for decades that gas stoves are linked to respiratory disorders, including asthma. Because many different types of dangerous pollutants, some more irritating to the airways than others, are released when these processes occur, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), and nitrogen dioxide,
But (and this is a big but), asthma is a complex disease that involves both genetic and environmental factors. These environmental factors include things like air pollution and respiratory infections, as well as secondhand smoke, dust mites, cockroaches, pets, mold, cleaning supplies, and even your furniture. Asthma is connected to anything from having a sneeze when you're a newborn to having a C-section.
The new study's lead author, Brady Seals, a manager in RMI's Carbon-Free Buildings program, a nonprofit that conducts sustainability research, made it clear that she and her colleagues did not say or conclude that gas stoves cause asthma; rather, their study highlighted just one association (of several) that links respiratory health risks to gas stoves.
You might lose money doing that. Seals told BuzzFeed News, "There are various transitional measures you can take if it is not viable to replace your gas stove, and I do believe parents should know about them so they can make choices for their family."
While it is reasonable to be concerned, it is also crucial to keep in mind the complexity of the variables that influence asthma risks and to direct attention to the things over which you have some measure of influence (like gas stove use).
According to BuzzFeed News, pediatric pulmonologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Dr. Christy Sadreameli says that the new research has changed her mind about gas stoves, but that people shouldn't be too concerned.
I don't want there to be widespread anxiety or the idea that everyone has to immediately replace all of their kitchen equipment. "For others, it may come as a shock, but I believe this is the beginning of awareness," Sadreameli remarked. Reduce exposure when possible, but prioritize keeping your children's asthma under control. It's a good thing that we have a wide variety of treatments for that condition.
Emissions from gas stoves must be addressed first.
Methane (70–90%) is the primary component of "natural gas," which also includes ethane, butane, and propane, and is used to fuel gas stoves in more than 40 million American homes. Many of the pollutants produced when the gas is burned are detrimental to human health and the environment.
The typical levels of nitrogen dioxide in households with gas stoves are around 50% to more than 400% higher than in homes with electric stoves, according to an EPA assessment from 2008. Research has connected this gas in particular to asthma and other breathing problems. Some persons, especially children, the elderly, those with preexisting lung diseases, and those living in low-income families, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of this and other hazardous pollutants due to their age, health, and economic status.
According to research released in January by Stanford University, the EPA's limits for one hour of outside exposure are exceeded in only a few minutes of cooking without a range hood or enough ventilation, particularly in smaller kitchens. (In the United States, indoor air pollution is not regulated.)
Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas with a warming potential nearly 86 times greater than that of carbon dioxide, was also discovered to escape from gas stoves, even when they were switched off, according to the same research.
By the end of the year, the same team of scientists had shown that natural gas in its unburned form isn't as safe as previously thought, having discovered benzene, a carcinogenic chemical that destroys cells, in 99 percent of samples collected from natural gas stoves in California. (Benzene is also present in cigarette smoke, varnishes, cleaning products, and paints.) Levels of benzene in gas stoves were similarly high in Boston, according to research.
Although the exact mechanism by which gas stoves may trigger asthma is unclear, the association between the two has been shown by enough studies for the American Medical Association to pass a resolution in 2022.
Children exposed to gas stoves at home had a 32% increased chance of developing asthma, according to a meta-analysis of 41 studies published throughout the world between 1977 and 2013. Even though the researchers found the risk to be "very minor," the public health effect is "substantial" due to the prevalence of gas stoves in the average household.
According to a survey published in 2017 by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, gas stoves are the most often reported indoor environmental cause of children's asthma symptoms, even more so than pet dander or the presence of carpets or rugs in the bedroom. Indoor asthma triggers also included wood smoke from cigarettes or fires, dogs in the bedroom, rodents, mildew, and smoking. (From 2006–2010, the authors analyzed survey data to determine what factors triggered or worsened asthma symptoms in children with a preexisting diagnosis.)
The takeaway here is that gas stoves pose different dangers to different people. People who are otherwise healthy or who cook in spacious, well-ventilated kitchens should not be as concerned. In any case, there is more to asthma than meets the eye.
Let's move on to the other, more plausible causes of asthma.
Okay, so we know now that gas stoves produce a lot of pollution. Yet, this fact alone should not condemn the rest of us to a life of wheezing and coughing due to a similar environmental trigger.
The cleanliness of the inside of our houses is indeed appalling. There's a lot more in the air than just the poisonous emissions from your gas stove, as the EPA estimates that indoor air pollution levels may be two to five, and even more than 100, times greater than those outdoors.
It is difficult to evaluate the risks posed by gas stoves in comparison to those posed by other indoor pollutants such as paint products, cockroaches, candles, cleaning supplies, dust mites, pet dander, secondhand cigarette smoke, mold, and carpets because no comprehensive list exists that rates all of these potential asthma triggers. Cleaning up food crumbs from the floor, dusting furniture, and having specialists check for more significant pollutants like mold, radon, lead, and asbestos are all things you can do to lower your risk of asthma from these sources.
However, not everyone has the same reaction to these toxins, and others won't have any reaction at all even though their houses are covered with dust and crust.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology reports that allergies are the primary cause of asthma symptoms and attacks; however, non-allergic stimuli such as cold air and exercise may bring on attacks in some children who are sensitive to pollen.
Although studies suggest that knowing whether a parent or sibling has asthma is a good predictor of whether or not a kid will acquire asthma themselves, it is not a failsafe.
In 2018, researchers from Vanderbilt University released a review of 32 meta-analyses investigating the relationship between certain risk factors and the onset of asthma in children less than 13 years old (most kids experience asthma symptoms by age 6).
Researchers determined that RSV infections and antibiotic usage in infants were responsible for roughly 51% of asthma occurrences. Other major risk factors were having a child delivered through a cesarean section, being overweight or obese, being exposed to tobacco smoke during pregnancy and/or breastfeeding, and having an allergy or asthma.
And Sadreameli is in complete agreement. She noted that there is some inconsistency in the statistics about these risk factors, but that respiratory infections, particularly the common cold, are "by far" the most prevalent causes or aggravators of asthma in children. And when you add in all the other possible asthma triggers a kid can be exposed to, whether at home or elsewhere, the dangers become overwhelming.
Although it is impossible to completely protect your child from catching a cold, you may lessen the likelihood of a severe asthma attack by making sure your child washes their hands often, stays away from other sick children, and wears a mask when necessary.
Asthma is still a leading cause of death, so individuals with chronic asthma must take control of their condition by being proactive with their symptoms, taking their prescribed medications as directed, and seeking medical attention as required. To our relief, that does not happen very often, although it is possible. Because of this, we treat it with the utmost importance.
Asthma is a disease that disproportionately affects the poor, but environmental toxins like those from vehicles and industries may also play a role in its development.