A recent study linked gas stoves with asthma in children, but asthma experts say: it’s not that simple.
It has long been known that gas stoves emit chemicals including nitrogen oxide and formaldehyde that can irritate airways. But a recent study raised alarm bells by linking their use with the onset of childhood asthma. This has left many families wondering: do we need to ditch our gas stove?
Published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the study attributes 12.7 percent of childhood asthma in the U.S. to gas stove use. It goes on to say the amount of childhood asthma that could be prevented by avoiding gas stoves varies by state, but ranges from 13.5 to 21 percent.
After the study’s release, Richard Trumka Jr., a commissioner with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, made headlines by saying the agency could even consider banning gas stoves. (The CPSC later backtracked, saying it was looking to reduce gas stove emissions, but not to ban.)
So where does this leave families with a history of asthma and allergies? According to Kansas City allergist Dr. Jay Portnoy, people don’t need to kick their gas stoves to the curb just yet.
Gas Stove & Asthma Study: What It Means
The study looks at the population in general, he explains, and doesn’t measure the actual physiological effects of gas stoves on children. It also doesn’t prove that gas stove use causes asthma symptoms, says Portnoy, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine.
Rather, the study shows that in states where gas stoves are more common, asthma rates are higher. Portnoy cautions, however, there could be many other factors at play.
The allergist says that in homes with gas stoves, especially those without proper ventilation, nitrogen oxide levels can be higher. However, it’s just one of dozens of substances that can be problematic.
“It’s one of many things in an environment that might contribute to asthma symptoms, so people should be aware of it. But I don’t recommend that you tear out your gas stove,” he says. “Really, it’s just something for scientists is to point to and say, ‘Maybe we should do more studies to find out how much this matters.’”
In the meantime, Portnoy says people should ensure gas appliances are regularly inspected and properly maintained. They should also turn on the range hood whenever a gas stove is in use.
“Those types of interventions can make a house with a gas stove a safe place to live,” says Portnoy. He adds that fireplaces, tobacco smoke and air fresheners are far more harmful to indoor air quality.
Gas Stoves’ Risks: Venting Matters
Dr. Khalil Savary agrees the study can be used to help reduce risks at the public health level. But he says it wasn’t intended to provide individual advice.
“I don’t think they were trying to attack individuals for putting a gas stove in their home. That’s not the goal,” says the pediatric pulmonologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “The goal was to say this is not a benign risk and we should, as a society, try and make changes to make things a little less risky.” He says this is especially the case with ventilation in urban settings.
Savary emphasizes that proper ventilation is key. If people have ducted range hoods that vent to the outside, they should always run them while cooking. Those with recirculating range hoods, which don’t vent to the outside, should open windows during cooking to allow fresh air in.
If people are renovating they might want to swap out their gas stove for an induction or electric range, he adds. But like Portnoy, he believes cooking with natural gas is not cause for alarm.
“I just put my gas stove in and I’m not ready to take it out,” says Savary with a laugh. “But if you want to cook your meals at home, and you want to do it in the best way possible, and try to reduce your impact on climate change, then go ahead and do your part.”
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