The banning of gas stoves has been a growing concern in the past few years. In fact, the Tennessee state legislature addressed the issue of a gas stove ban by passing a law in 2020 that prohibited the banning of “a utility service based upon the type or source of energy to be delivered to an individual customer.”
Yet, misleading stories about gas stoves and indoor air quality have dominated the news cycle lately. Rumors spread rapidly that the U.S. government planned to confiscate all gas stoves from people’s homes. This is false. At the moment, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is only seeking to obtain public input on hazards associated with gas stoves. The CPSC is the government agency that strives to reduce the risk of injuries and deaths associated with faulty consumer products.
So, what’s the truth about gas stoves and do all of the folks in Tennessee who enjoy cooking on their propane gas stoves have any reason to be concerned?
Last December, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published a study that concluded that “12.7% of current childhood asthma nationwide is attributed to gas stove use…”
Unfortunately, the researchers seem to confine their description to just “gas stoves,” apparently not realizing that there are some key differences between a stove powered by natural gas and one that’s fueled by propane. (More on that soon).
Research that’s raised alarm bells over the potential risks involved in cooking isn’t new, however. All cooking—whether it happens on a gas, electric or wood stove—produces some particulate matter (PM). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines PM as microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems.
“Anything with a red-hot element is going to generate particles,” said Iain Walker, an engineer at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab who studies home indoor air quality and ventilation. “That includes most stovetops, ovens and even small appliances like toasters. Frying and roasting cook methods both produce a lot more particulate matter than boiling or steaming.”
As an example, think about all of the smoke that’s produced when you’re searing a steak in a frying pan on your cooktop. It’s not healthy to be breathing that in because of all the particulate matter it contains.
This is why indoor air quality experts always advise using your kitchen range hood to vent particulate matter to the outside whenever you are cooking. If you don’t have a range hood, open a nearby window to achieve at least some ventilation.
An earlier study, done by researchers at Stanford and published in January 2022, revealed that all of the 53 natural gas stoves observed leaked methane gas, even when turned off. The research team also wrote: “In addition to methane emissions, co-emitted health-damaging air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) are released into home air and can trigger respiratory diseases.”
Nitrogen dioxide has been shown to contribute to breathing problems like asthma. A 2016 study at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab found that the simple act of boiling water on a natural gas stove produces nearly twice the amount of nitrogen dioxide than the outdoor standard established by the EPA. Considering that about one-third homes in our country use natural gas for cooking, that’s something that needs to be addressed.
Here is a critical point we have not seen addressed in either of these studies. Concerns have long been raised about methane leaks coming from natural gas beyond indoor emissions from stoves fueled by natural gas. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and it’s the main component of natural gas.
Now, compare that to propane. In its original form, propane is not a greenhouse gas and it’s considered a “green” fuel because of its low carbon content. Unlike natural gas, propane does not contain any methane gas!
Besides the type of gas used to power your stove, the major difference between a propane stove and a natural gas stove are the gas jet nozzles. Because propane is highly pressurized, the nozzles have much smaller holes. Natural gas isn’t pressurized as much as propane, so the nozzles have larger holes. That’s the reason propane and natural gas stoves can’t be interchanged as is. If you wanted to switch from a natural gas stove to one that’s fueled by propane, you would need to get a propane conversion kit for stove. This is needed to replace the gas jets. This job is best left to a professional, however.
The Propane Education and Research Council (PERC) pointed out that there are competing studies about the adverse impact to indoor air quality that various types of stoves produce.
According to PERC, the Stanford study’s findings (noted above), are based on an extremely small sample size and unrealistic cooking conditions and don’t provide a clear picture of …particulate matter generated from electric cooking. (Electric stoves produce particulate matter…and emit dangerous chemicals like formaldehyde that can be toxic.)
PERC also cited The Lancet Respiratory Medicine abstract, which states: “…we detected no evidence of an association between the use of gas as a cooking fuel and either asthma symptoms or asthma diagnosis.”
Tucker Perkins, PERC’s president and CEO, points to a 2020 study by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) that found that electric ranges cause household fires at a rate 2.6 times greater than gas ranges; civilian injuries at a rate 4.8 times higher; and civilian deaths at a rate 3.4 times higher.
“Am I suggesting we ban electric stoves? Of course not,” said Perkins. “Many factors affect things like indoor air quality and fire safety, and policymakers must weigh all of them.”
Perkins emphasized that work must continue to eliminate the presence of harmful emissions in and near homes.
“Rather than gas bans, states should focus on natural gas supply chains and mitigate potential hazards….This, along with proper installation, ventilation, and yearly checkups by qualified technicians constitutes a common-sense approach to addressing health and safety concerns around gas appliances.”