In honor of National Public Health Week, we want to call attention to the dangers of indoor air pollution. Homes that use gas stoves expose themselves to unsafe amounts of indoor air pollution. That matters, because Americans spend, on average, approximately 90 percent of our time indoors.
As you may recall, WE ACT for Environmental Justice recently released a report (PDF) on our Out of Gas, In with Justice pilot study. We had studied the impact on indoor air quality when replacing gas stoves with induction stoves in a NYCHA development in the Bronx. Specifically, we looked at nitrogen dioxide concentrations inside of people’s homes. Nitrogen dioxide is a harmful air pollutant produced from burning methane, which is the primary ingredient of the gas used in stoves.
According to the American Lung Association, exposure to nitrogen dioxide can cause respiratory issues and has been linked to asthma, cardiovascular issues, lower birth weights, and premature death. And it is one of six pollutants deemed sufficiently dangerous that they are federally regulated by outdoor air pollution standards. Surprisingly, no standards currently exist for indoor air pollution.
What did we learn from our pilot study?
We learned that gas stoves are a dangerous source of indoor air pollution. The households with induction stoves experienced a 35 percent reduction in daily nitrogen dioxide concentrations compared to those using gas stoves, when controlling for temperature and apartment-level factors. Twenty-four-hour averages of carbon monoxide also saw a significant decrease. We also conducted controlled cooking tests, which found that nitrogen dioxide concentrations in kitchens with gas stoves were on average 190 percent higher than those with induction stoves.
Perhaps the most telling lesson from our pilot study is that none of the participants wanted to switch back to their gas stoves at the end of the study. In fact, we offered induction stoves to the control group, and they eagerly accepted them.
Our pilot study adds to the growing body of evidence that gas stoves and other gas appliances like boilers and water heaters are harmful to our health. For example, studies show that children living in a home with a gas stove are up to 42 percent more likely to develop asthma. And in communities like the Bronx, where we did our study, they face some of the worst outdoor air pollution imaginable. For those cooking with gas, that means there is no escape from air pollution.
This isn’t a cultural debate. It’s a public health crisis. And it’s time both the media and our elected officials start treating it as such.
Many of our fellow environmental advocates will note the harm fossil fuels like natural gas inflict on our planet and its inhabitants. This is true. Climate change is also a public health crisis, and gas appliances are fueling it. Buildings burning fossil fuels account for 70 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in New York City. And studies have shown those emissions lead to nearly 2,000 premature deaths each in New York State.
But gas appliances aren’t the only sources of indoor air pollution. Residents of low-income communities and communities of color tend to live in older housing stock, which oftentimes is poorly maintained. As a result, they frequently face environmental issues such as mold, lead, asbestos, and pests – all of which are harmful to your health. And those homes are rarely energy efficient, which means residents are also more likely to face environmental issues like extreme heat and extreme cold.
What can we do?
We can start by taking indoor air pollution as seriously as we do outdoor air pollution. It poses a significant health risk, especially in communities which are already overburdened with outdoor air pollution. For many, purchasing an induction stove or installing a high-performance ventilation system for their gas stove is not an affordable option. Renters, even if they could afford to replace their boiler with a heat pump and make these other changes, lack the agency to do so. And, at least here in New York State, to be eligible for energy efficiency upgrade programs, you first need to remediate environmental issues like mold, lead, asbestos, and pests – which, again, may not be affordable or may require the landlord to address.
In 2021, we helped pass New York City’s Local Law 154, which requires most new buildings under seven stories to be built all-electric beginning in January 2024, and those over seven stories beginning in July 2027. That means future generations will not be burdened with indoor air pollution from gas stoves and other appliances.
We have been advocating for a similar bill, the All-Electric Building Act, to be passed by New York State, as well as the NY HEAT Act, which will save ratepayers billions of dollars that utilities would spend on unnecessary gas infrastructure to buildings that will no longer use fossil fuels. And we proposed another bill – the Energy Efficiency, Equity, and Jobs Act – which would ensure that the cost of mold, lead, asbestos, and pests remediation is included in the state’s energy efficiency upgrade programs.
We have also been asking the Consumer Products Safety Commission to review the safety of gas appliances and consider labeling them a threat to public health, so when people purchase them, they will at least be aware of the health hazards created by their use – much like a pack of cigarettes. Because people deserve to know the dangers of indoor air pollution, including the dangerous emissions produced by burning fossil fuels like gas in your home.
In fact, a recent Data for Progress poll found that the majority of Americans support regulating gas stoves, especially once they learn about the harmful air pollutants they produce. And a rising chorus of top chefs have been debunking the gas industry’s propaganda about gas stoves being superior to induction.
But this isn’t about personal preference. Gas stoves and other gas appliances are bad for your health. There are better, healthier alternatives such as induction stoves and heat pumps. And those who claim otherwise are putting your health at risk – just like lighting a gas burner in your home.