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Gas stoves emit unsafe levels of nitrogen dioxide

In many American homes, the familiar hiss of a gas stove ignites more than just family meals – it sparks a series of health concerns due to the emission of nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Recent research highlights the significant impact this gas can have on indoor air quality, revealing that even bedrooms can become saturated with harmful levels of pollutants shortly after cooking, and these levels can linger for hours.

“I didn’t expect to see pollutant concentrations breach health benchmarks in bedrooms within an hour of gas stove use, and stay there for hours after the stove is turned off,” noted Professor Rob Jackson, a senior researcher at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.

This revelation confirms that the issue extends beyond the kitchen, affecting the air quality throughout the entire home.

Health risks of gas stoves and nitrogen dioxide exposure

The health implications of prolonged exposure to nitrogen dioxide from gas stoves are severe and multifaceted. Consistent inhalation of NO2 can exacerbate asthma symptoms, hinder lung development in children, and even contribute to premature mortality.

The study, which also included insights from researchers at the Central California Asthma Collaborative, PSE Healthy Energy, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, estimates that up to 200,000 cases of childhood asthma may be linked to gas stove emissions. A significant portion of these asthma cases are directly attributable to nitrogen dioxide.

Quantifying nitrogen dioxide exposure levels

Study lead author Yannai Kashtan, a PhD student specializing in Earth System Science, pointed out that the quantity of gas used during cooking is the predominant factor influencing NO2 exposure levels in homes.

Kashtan noted that the effectiveness and usage of range hoods play crucial roles in mitigating exposure. “We found that just how much gas you burn in your stove is by far the biggest factor affecting how much you’re exposed. And then, after that, do you have an effective range hood – and do you use it?”

Mortality rates associated with NO2 exposure

The research team employed advanced sensors and modeling techniques to measure and analyze NO2 levels in over 100 homes of varying sizes and layouts.

The findings indicate that long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide in homes with gas stoves may cause thousands of deaths each year – comparable to the mortality rates associated with secondhand smoke.

“Assuming that meta-analyses of outdoor NO2 and all-cause adult mortality may be applied to long-term exposure to indoor NO2, our analysis suggests that long-term NO2 exposure from gas and propane stoves in the United States may be responsible for up to 19,000 deaths annually,” wrote the researchers.

Nationwide consequences of indoor air pollution

On a broader scale, the typical use of propane or gas stoves in the U.S. is likely to increase household NO2 levels significantly, nearly reaching unsafe limits set by the World Health Organization for outdoor air.

“That’s excluding all outdoor sources combined, so it makes it much more likely you’re going to exceed the limit,” said Kashtan, highlighting the gravity of indoor pollution.

Socioeconomic and demographic disparities

The study also sheds light on disparities in NO2 exposure based on household size and demographic factors. Smaller homes, often less than 800 square feet, and those in poorer or minority communities face disproportionately higher levels of indoor pollution.

“People in poorer communities can’t always afford to change their appliances, or perhaps they rent and can’t replace appliances because they don’t own them,” noted Jackson. This issue is compounded in smaller homes, where residents breathe in more pollution for the same amount of stove use.

Cleaner home energy solutions

This research not only advances our understanding of indoor air pollution from gas stoves but also emphasizes the need for effective ventilation and perhaps a reconsideration of fuel sources in homes.

Electric stoves, for instance, offer a cleaner alternative, emitting no NO2 or other harmful pollutants like benzene.

“It’s the fuel, not the food. Electric stoves emit no nitrogen dioxide or benzene. If you own a gas or propane stove, you need to reduce pollutant exposures using ventilation,” said Jackson.

The findings from this comprehensive study illustrate the critical need for awareness and action in addressing indoor air pollution. They also call for a reassessment of household energy choices to safeguard public health, particularly among vulnerable populations.

The research is published in the journal Science Advances.


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