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Gas stoves release more harmful nanoparticles than vehicle exhaust

In an eye-opening study from Purdue University, researchers have discovered that cooking on a gas stove emits more nano-sized particles into the air than the exhaust from gas or diesel vehicles, potentially elevating the risk of developing asthma and other respiratory illnesses. 

This revelation underscores a significant source of indoor air pollution that might have been underappreciated until now. Based on their findings, the researchers recommend turning on a kitchen exhaust fan while cooking on a gas stove

The study was led by Brandon Boor, an associate professor in Purdue’s Lyles School of Civil Engineering.

“Combustion remains a source of air pollution across the world, both indoors and outdoors. We found that cooking on your gas stove produces large amounts of small nanoparticles that get into your respiratory system and deposit efficiently,” said Professor Boor.

Large amounts of tiny nanoparticles

The study was focused on tiny airborne nanoparticles that are only 1-3 nanometers in diameter. These particles are perfectly sized to reach deep into the respiratory system and potentially spread to other organs, posing significant health risks.

The researchers noted that children living in homes with gas stoves have a higher likelihood of developing asthma, a concern that has been echoed in previous studies. However, the focus on particles smaller than 3 nanometers, known as nanocluster aerosol, is relatively new due to the challenges in measuring such minuscule particles.

“These super tiny nanoparticles are so small that you’re not able to see them. They’re not like dust particles that you would see floating in the air,” said Professor Boor. “After observing such high concentrations of nanocluster aerosol during gas cooking, we can’t ignore these nano-sized particles anymore.”

Focus of the study 

Utilizing advanced air quality instrumentation from the German company GRIMM AEROSOL TECHNIK, the researchers conducted experiments in a “tiny house” lab, known as the Purdue zero Energy Design Guidance for Engineers (zEDGE) lab. 

This lab, equipped with sensors to monitor air quality impacts from everyday activities, allowed for the precise measurement of these tiny particles during realistic cooking scenarios. Collaborating with Gerhard Steiner, a senior scientist and product manager for nano measurement at GRIMM AEROSOL, the team managed to collect extensive data on the presence of nanocluster aerosol particles in indoor air during cooking.

Alarming results

The findings were startling. The researchers estimated that up to 10 quadrillion nanocluster aerosol particles could be emitted per kilogram of cooking fuel, a figure that matches or even exceeds the particle emissions from vehicle exhausts. 

This comparison suggests that individuals could be inhaling 10-100 times more nanocluster aerosol from indoor cooking on a gas stove than from car exhaust on a busy street.

“You would not use a diesel engine exhaust pipe as an air supply to your kitchen,” said study co-lead author Nusrat Jung, a professor of Civil Engineering who designed the tiny house lab with her students.

Billions of particles ingested

The study also highlights the persistence of these particles, with models showing significant emissions within 20 minutes of cooking activities like boiling water or making grilled cheese sandwiches. 

Many of the particles rapidly diffused to other surfaces, but the models indicated that approximately 10 billion to 1 trillion particles could deposit into an adult’s head airways and tracheobronchial region of the lungs. Among children, these doses would be even more concentrated. 

“Since most people don’t turn on their exhaust fan while cooking, having kitchen hoods that activate automatically would be a logical solution,” said Professor Boor. 

“Moving forward, we need to think about how to reduce our exposure to all types of indoor air pollutants. Based on our new data, we’d advise that nanocluster aerosol be considered as a distinct air pollutant category.”

The study is published in the journal PNAS Nexus

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