Yes, Gas Stoves Can Be Hazardous To Your Health. Here's Why And What You Can Do To Reduce Risks
If you're wondering where all the discussion about gas versus induction cooktops came from recently, you're not alone. The subject has been a hot topic at the water cooler and on social media in the last few weeks, dividing some stakeholders and calling future use of this ubiquitous kitchen appliance into use.
Why it matters
Gas-powered stoves are very common, and can be found in about 40% of U.S. homes. But a growing body of scientific research suggests that the appliances may be polluting our homes with invisible but potentially harmful gases like carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.
Any time natural gas is burned, a group of chemicals called "nox" are released into the air, as Dr. Aaron Bernstein, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard University, explained this week on our newsroom's AirTalk show — which airs on 89.3 FM.
"It can reach levels in a kitchen where there's not good air circulation that are known to make it harder for people to breathe, especially people with lung disorders," Bernstein said. "And so people have rightly started to wonder if it's a good idea to use their gas stove, especially if they have asthma or have a person in their household who has difficulty breathing."
About the alternatives
Electric ranges and induction stoves offer a pollutant-free alternative to those who can get one, but shifting to cooking with electricity from gas isn't always an easy transition, particularly for culinary or restaurant professionals.
As Nyesha Arrington, a chef in Southern California, told us, having an induction burner for something like a large stock pot is great, because it can keep the heat level steady, and that will prevent the pot from boiling over. But, she says, because induction cooktops require your cookware to be in contact with magnets that conduct the heat into the pan, heat dissipates quickly whenever you remove your cooking vessel from the heat source.
"So I think that's one of the drawbacks to being able to cook over live fire or a gas-powered stove is that you can really feel and you're harnessing the heat source, right?" Arrington said. "You can feel the heat, you can turn it up and down and you don't have to wait so long for the pan to get hot again."
Arrington also noted that in a restaurant setting, induction stoves might not be the most practical solution.
"When you have, 200, 300 guests on the book...it's a lot more difficult to harness that heat in a rapid pace," she explained. "Some restaurants have stainless steel cooking pans that work [with induction]...but an aluminum pan that you see in some of these mom-and-pop shops are not gonna work on those induction burners."
Richard Trumka Jr., who heads the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said in an interview with Bloomberg in early January that gas stoves were a "hidden hazard" and something that his agency could seek to regulate, or even ban. While it's unclear exactly what prompted Trumka's comments, some have speculated that two recent studies — one from Harvard and another from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health — might be behind them.
Listen to the conversation
How to reduce your risk
If your home has a gas stove, but you aren't in a position to rush out and get an electric or induction stove, Dr. Bernstein says there are some simple things you can do to mitigate.
"Whether you're boiling water or cooking something that creates a lot of smoke, if you have vents over your stove, use them," he said.
Dr. Bernstein adds that if you don't have vents, you can still help by opening doors and windows or using a fan — a luxury we have in Southern California thanks to our year-round (mostly) good weather. But, he notes, outdoor air pollution is also a concern in Southern California, so always check your local air quality report before opening your house up.
There are currently no known plans for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission or any other federal agency to start regulating gas stoves. Here in Los Angeles, per a new law that went into effect on January 1, all new buildings constructed must be fully electric.
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