Researchers at Stanford University found that among the pollutants emitted from stoves is benzene, which is linked to cancer. With one burner on high or the oven at 350 degrees, levels of benzene can reach higher than those found in secondhand tobacco smoke and the benzene pollution can spread throughout a home.
FINDINGS OF THE RESEARCH
Stanford scientists measured benzene from gas stoves in 87 California and Colorado homes in 2022 for the paper published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. They found both natural gas and propane stoves “emitted detectable and repeatable levels of benzene that in some homes raised indoor benzene concentrations above well-established health benchmarks.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the chemical is linked to leukemia and other blood cell cancers. “Benzene forms in flames and other high-temperature environments, such as the flares found in oil fields and refineries. We now know that benzene also forms in the flames of gas stoves in our homes,” said Rob Jackson, a study’s senior author and a Stanford professor, in a statement.
Analyze benzene emissions
And they found the toxin doesn’t just stay in the kitchen, it can migrate to other places, such as bedrooms. “Good ventilation helps reduce pollutant concentrations, but we found that exhaust fans were often ineffective at eliminating benzene exposure,” Jackson said. He says this is the first paper to analyze benzene emissions when a stove or oven is in use.
All the pollution came from the gas and not the food. The gas industry often deflects concern about pollution from its fuel, to breathing problems that can be triggered by cooking fumes.
RESPONDING OF GAS INDUSTRY
The American Gas Association, which represents natural gas utilities, routinely casts doubt over scientific research showing that burning natural gas in homes can be unhealthy. Last year the powerful trade group criticized a peer-reviewed study showing gas stoves leak benzene even when they are turned off. The AGA offered similar criticism of a 2022 analysis, which showed 12.7% of childhood asthma cases in the U.S. can be attributed to gas stove use in homes.
The National Propane Gas Association, in a statement to NPR, tried to cast doubt on the peer-reviewed research. The NPGA said the Stanford paper “fails to analyze real-world environments,” and suggests when cooking with gas “air quality can be managed through numerous measures, including ventilation options such as range hoods or exhaust fans.”
Nitrogen dioxide emissions have been the biggest concern, because they can trigger respiratory diseases, like asthma. The American Public Health Association has labeled gas cooking stoves “a public health concern,” and the American Medical Association warns that cooking with gas increases the risk of childhood asthma.
U.S. House of Representatives recently introduced and passed two pieces of legislation. One, called the “Save Our Gas Stoves Act” and another called the “Gas Stove Protection and Freedom Act”
PRECAUTIONS TO BE TAKEN BY PEOPLE
First, try to stop cooking with gas and switch to electric. The main ingredient in natural gas is methane, which leaks into the atmosphere all along the gas supply chain and is a potent greenhouse gas.
People can buy a portable induction cooktop. And when the time comes to replace your stove, there are now government subsidies available through the climate-focused Inflation Reduction Act passed last year.