Gas stoves began to gain popularity in the 1930s, and soon after the familiar catch phrase “Now you’re cooking with gas!” was coined. Now, they’re a staple in many households, and even a wish-list item for renters or homebuyers. Gas stove users have also gotten progressively more creative over the decades. Now, roasting marshmallows and toasting bread over the open flame is a common habit (although the safety of these techniques is questionable). Regardless of how we use them, most of us have experienced the familiar tick-tick-tick of the ignitor, the subtle smell of natural gas, and the blue-tinted flame.

Image of a gas stovetop with two burners
Image by PublicDomainPictures is licensed under Pixabay

Gas stoves are often preferred by professional chefs and cooking connoisseurs, since the flame is thought to provide more precise temperature control and even heat distribution compared to electric coils or flat-tops. For perspective, approximately 1 in 3 households in the U.S. use gas stoves for cooking, according to the American Housing Survey. However, usage rates are much higher in New York and California, where 70% of households are cooking with gas units.

Although they are widely used and accepted, these appliances have recently been reported to emit a number of toxins that may contribute to indoor air pollution. Chemical analysis of natural gas supplied to homes in California identified 12 harmful air pollutants. One of the most concerning contents is benzene, which is a known carcinogen. Carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and fine particulate matter are also pollutants of concern. Although the highest exposure occurs while cooking, gas stoves may leak even when they are not turned on. Burning natural gas creates the by-product nitrogen dioxide, a known respiratory irritant. Together, these observations raise cause for concern regarding the use of natural gas for cooking in the home.

The potential health effects of gas stoves are already being investigated. For example, exposure to air pollution can contribute to respiratory conditions such as asthma. A recent study estimates that 12% of childhood asthma cases in the U.S. are linked to gas stove usage. Further, cooking with a gas stove also releases methane into the air. This greenhouse gas is known to contribute to climate change, which is expected to be detrimental to human health in the long-term.

While these facts may be alarming to gas stove users, there are ways to reduce accumulation of these indoor air pollutants. Increasing ventilation while cooking on a gas range by opening windows or using an exhaust fan can help to limit how much of these chemicals build up inside your home, and air purifiers equipped with HEPA filters may eliminate them from the indoor air. Indoor air monitors may also be useful for tracking the levels of air pollution within the home. And, of course, switching to an electric stove may be a practical option for those who are willing to give up their gas range.

In addition to individual concern/action, we’re also beginning to see regulatory agencies taking action to limit air pollution from gas stoves. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is set to begin regulating gas stoves in the near future, with a potential full ban on the table. Additionally, New York has become the first state to prohibit installation of natural gas lines in newly constructed buildings in an effort to reduce natural gas-related air pollution and fossil fuel usage beginning in 2026.


Peer Editor: Devan Shell


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