Push to phase out gas stoves over health concerns met with online anger
SEATTLE - The push to electrify kitchens is not new. Scientists have sounded the alarm on the dangers of gas stoves for years.
In the mid-80s, the EPA directed the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to review nitrogen dioxide emissions in kitchens across America due to gas stoves. Policymakers never took action.
Since then, studies have piled up raising the concern over what people – especially children – have been breathing inside their homes.
The latest round of debate comes after a report linked 12.7-percent of childhood asthma cases to gas-burning stoves.
That report, peer-reviewed and published in the Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, may have created the loudest calls to ban gas stoves to date. Though, the people who could potentially make such a move have been quick to backtrack.
During a policy discussion held via Zoom in December a commissioner from CPSC made it clear: a ban should be on the table.
"We need to be talking about regulating gas stoves," said Commissioner Richard Trumka. "Whether that’s drastically improving emissions, or banning gas stoves entirely. I think we ought to keep that possibility of a ban in mind as we follow along, because it’s a powerful tool in our toolbox."
That statement created a firestorm online. Trade groups fueled by natural gas money called the idea "reckless" and part of a "misguided agenda."
Senator Joe Manchin took to Twitter to lambast the conversation about a potential ban.
By the time the dust settled – the CPSC’s chairman denied there was any push to ban gas stoves.
While many have called the backlash the latest culture war, the fight over natural gas – also known as methane gas has stretched back years.
Nowadays, the fight looks different – a recent report from the New York Times indicates that propane trade groups are running a multi-million dollar ad campaign to use online influencers to promote fossil fuels.
Per Inside Energy, the beginning of the fight to promote methane gas began in the 1930s with a man named Deke Houlgate working the slogan "now you’re cooking with gas," into the American lexicon through comedy and cartoons.
While the push to get natural gas – or, more specifically, methane gas – into homes has changed more and more attention has been placed on the health impacts of methane in people’s homes.
In 1992 a first-of-its-kind analysis showed a connection between indoor NO2 and childhood respiratory illnesses. Since then, our understanding of the connection has only grown.
"Even when you’re using them perfectly according to directions, even when they’re turned off, they release nitrogen dioxide," said Dr. Annemarie Dooley, a member of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Dr. Dooley is referring to one of the reports that has found gas stoves continually leak methane even when they're not in use.
Dooley was part of a group that testified to the State Legislature last year to ban gas hook-ups in newly built homes for space and water heating. She said gas stoves should be considered the next step.
The fights over these moves are contentious. Ahead of the debate in Olympia, we saw similar battles play out in both Seattle and Bellingham. Those debates focused on both the climate impacts of methane – a gas that has 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide, and the personal health concerns.
Dr. Dooley noted that gas stoves aren’t just a medical concern, but an environmental justice problem.
Air quality is largely a cumulative impact. Research has estimated that as much as 60-percent of your health is determined by your zip code. Those who live in areas with poor air quality, could essentially be doubling-down with harms in their home – in this case, a gas stove.
"They do a terrific job of marketing gas," said Dr. Dooley. "The gas industry does not want to talk about the health risks of gas stoves. They’ll do anything not to talk about it."
Following the latest news cycle, groups like the American Gas Association have pushed back hard on conversations about the dangers of NO2 inside people’s homes.
"A December 2022 report in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health linking natural gas cooking with asthma is not substantiated by sound science," the AGA said in a press release – pointing to a separate study they backed.
While a ban seems less likely by the day, there are people who hope there will be better educational opportunities at the least.
In December, U.S. PIRG released a survey that raised concerns about a lack of knowledge by retailers selling stoves. A team went to 10 states, including Washington, and shopped for stoves.
Researchers determined that 74-percent of store associates at a combination of Home Depot, Lowe’s and Best Buy locations either told would-be shopper that gas stoves carried no health concerns, or that they were unaware of any concerns.
There may be help for those who are turned off at the idea of methane inside their homes after the latest news cycle. The Inflation Reduction Act earmarked $4.5 billion in funding for states to provide rebates for the purchase of new electric appliances – that includes electric and induction ranges.
Tax credits are also available for jobs like upgrading your home breaker box, or electrical wiring – though the money is being routed through states, and programs to make such changes vary by state.
You can see what programs are currently available in Washington, here – rebate, grant and tax credit programs are being updated as they come online.