A new way to show your political affiliation can loom, and it’s close to home. So close you’ll find it in your kitchen.
A debate over gas stoves has flared up again this week, and it’s been ideological in the US as researchers, regulators and Democratic politicians point to the problematic emissions from gas appliances, conservatives assert their right to cook how they want. Things get, well, hot fast, like they do on a gas stove: “When the crazies in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it out of my cold, dead hands. COME AND TAKE IT!!” Congressman Ronny Jackson of Texas said Twitter. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York clapped back: “Did you know that prolonged exposure to NO2 from gas stoves is associated with decreased cognitive performance?[?]”
Much like the rift over electric cars — US President Joe Biden has pushed new electric options, but some Republicans call them costly and inconvenient — the stove finds itself at the center of a culture clash. People have very strong feelings for the blazing flame of their gas stove and enjoy its cooking speed and precision. For Republicans, tearing apart Biden’s climate agenda and portraying the policy as government overstatement is another issue to pick at.
There is little new information fueling the debate. Scientists have known for some time that gas stoves emit toxic fumes that can harm the environment and people’s health. But one benefit of politicians sparring on Twitter; More and more people are learning how their powerful gas stoves, perfect for searing steaks or heating cast-iron cookware, can affect their health.
“We’re finding that these stoves are not as clean as we thought,” says Eric Lebel, a senior scientist at PSE Healthy Energy, a policy institute focused on energy, public health and the environment that has studied emissions from gas stoves . “It’s not just a climate or health issue. But it is both at the same time.”
Lebel’s research found that gas stoves release methane, a major greenhouse gas. These emissions also occur when the stoves are not in use. Gas stoves also emit nitrogen dioxide when the burners are on, which can irritate the respiratory tract.
Scientists are also beginning to directly link emissions from gas stoves to health problems. A December 2022 study led by environmental think tank RMI found that gas stoves accounted for 12.7 percent of childhood asthma cases in the United States. Researchers in Australia came to similar conclusions in a 2018 study, finding that 12.3 percent of childhood asthma cases could be attributed to stoves (this number dropped to 3.4 percent when kitchens had efficient ventilation systems). But asthma is a complicated disease influenced by genetics, allergies, infections, and exposure to pollutants besides stoves like air pollution and smoke.
Gas stoves can also leak benzene, a carcinogenic gas, according to another study Lebel was working on. In small kitchens with poor ventilation and high-emitting stoves, those levels could be comparable to living with a smoker, Lebel says.
Everything on fire
The recent cooker drama was spurred by comments from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Richard Trumka Jr., who called the cookers “a hidden hazard” and told Bloomberg this week that “every option is on the table,” including possible ones prohibitions. He clarified that e.g regulations would apply to new products. Biden does not support plans to ban gas stoves. The chair of the commission issued a statement saying it is “researching gas emissions in stoves and exploring new ways to address health risks” and has no intention of banning gas stoves.
But it’s a trend that’s already happening. Several U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and New York, have enacted various bans on gas appliances in new buildings, and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is backing an ambitious mission to make all new buildings in the state all-electric. But people are resilient and there are a lot of gas stoves out there. More than a third of Americans have gas stoves, as do more than 30 percent of Europeans. Restaurants worry about their ability to prepare some dishes without the accuracy that blazing flames offer, as well as soaring utility bills as electricity costs more than gas.