Will You Look at Your Gas Stove Differently After Reading This?

A burner on a gas stove.

Just this morn­ing, new research was released from Stan­ford that shows that gas stoves are big­ger cli­mate pol­luters than pre­vi­ous­ly thought, when account­ing for methane leaks. Accord­ing to the research, cli­mate pol­lu­tion from the approx­i­mate­ly 43.3 mil­lion gas stoves in the coun­try is com­pa­ra­ble to half a mil­lion gas cars on the road.

Cli­mate change is the biggest glob­al health threat of the 21st cen­tu­ry. Some of those threats, like coastal storms and heat waves, are high­ly vis­i­ble. Oth­ers are all around us but are hard­er to see. Near­ly 1 in 5 deaths world­wide are caused by air pol­lu­tion from burn­ing fos­sil fuels. In the Unit­ed States, build­ings are an over­looked source of that air pol­lu­tion. In fact, out­door air pol­lu­tion from burn­ing fuels in build­ings (gas, oil, wood, bio­mass) now has more neg­a­tive health impacts than coal in many states, accord­ing to research from Har­vard School of Pub­lic Health. 

Burn­ing fos­sil fuels in the build­ing sec­tor is a sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tor to green­house gas emis­sions (about 10% of US car­bon emis­sions) and air pol­lu­tion. But the sources come down to just a hand­ful of appli­ances: includ­ing fos­sil fuel pow­ered water heaters and fur­naces. Pol­lu­tants relat­ed to those gas emis­sions include nitro­gen oxides (NOx), par­tic­u­late mat­ter (PM2.5), car­bon monox­ide, and ground-lev­el ozone.

Indoors, beyond the new­ly report­ed cli­mate impacts, gas stoves can be a pri­ma­ry source of air pol­lu­tion, espe­cial­ly as stoves are not required to be vent­ed to the out­doors in every state, and build­ing codes can vary sub­stan­tial­ly, even from one coun­ty to the next. Health research shows that chil­dren liv­ing in a home with a gas stove have a 42% increased risk of hav­ing asth­ma symp­toms com­pared to chil­dren in homes with elec­tric stoves.

Near­ly fifty years of health lit­er­a­ture shows that gas stoves are a health risk (numer­ous stud­ies date back to the 1970’s). Health pro­fes­sion­als have rec­og­nized the sig­nif­i­cant harm of these emis­sions. Recent­ly, med­ical soci­eties in Mass­a­chu­setts and Wash­ing­ton have passed res­o­lu­tions rec­og­niz­ing the health harms of gas appli­ance pollution. 

A chart and image showing the gas stoves can emit elevated indoor nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels often exceeding indoor guidelines and outdoor standards.

That indoor air pol­lu­tion is a health equi­ty and cli­mate jus­tice issue. In the Unit­ed States, 26 mil­lion low-income house­holds burn fos­sil fuels inside their homes. Com­mu­ni­ties of col­or are dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly over­bur­dened by pol­lu­tion from burn­ing fos­sil fuels even with­out con­sid­er­ing the gas stoves, as well as ener­gy costs and poor hous­ing qual­i­ty. This is due in part to struc­tur­al racism through­out our hous­ing and eco­nom­ic sys­tems. Many of these com­mu­ni­ties are also high­ly vul­ner­a­ble to the extreme weath­er events brought on by cli­mate change. Com­mu­ni­ties may lack com­pa­ra­ble access to cool­ing and resilient infra­struc­ture, as well as the finan­cial means to relocate.

Pol­i­cy­mak­ers at all lev­els of gov­ern­ment are start­ing to take steps to address gas appli­ance pol­lu­tion. At the fed­er­al lev­el, the Con­sumer Prod­uct Safe­ty Com­mis­sion has start­ed hold­ing pub­lic meet­ings to look at gas stove pol­lu­tion. The Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency recent­ly announced that gas appli­ances won’t make the cut for the Ener­gy Star’s most effi­cient” rat­ing. Air agen­cies have a par­tic­u­lar role to play in end­ing gas appli­ance pol­lu­tion. In Cal­i­for­nia, the newest build­ing code includes dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed require­ments for gas stoves (vs. elec­tric stoves), the first time this has been required by a build­ing code by any state. The Cal­i­for­nia Air Resources Board unan­i­mous­ly vot­ed on a ground­break­ing res­o­lu­tion com­mit­ting the agency to take sig­nif­i­cant action on gas appli­ance pollution. 

There is still sig­nif­i­cant work to do. Around the coun­try, more than 60% of house­holds heat their homes or water with fos­sil fuels, and about 35% of house­holds cook with gas. A report from the Envi­ron­men­tal Law Insti­tute shows how states, local­i­ties and tribes can ben­e­fit from build­ing codes and oth­er poli­cies to reduce indoor air pol­lu­tion. By cen­ter­ing health and cli­mate jus­tice along with cli­mate goals, pol­i­cy­mak­ers can best ensure that poli­cies, whether they address retro­fits or new con­struc­tion, are putting peo­ple first.