Gas Stoves: More Than a Lifestyle Choice
By Leslie Engel, MPH, Science Writer Consultant for the Global Food Ethics and Policy Program
You’ve likely heard the recent flare up regarding gas stoves, inspired by statements from Richard Trumka Jr. of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
It turns out that gas stoves are a major source of indoor air pollution from nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter, which they emit even when not in use. While discussing the health hazards this poses—-childhood asthma, respiratory illnesses, increased risk for cardiovascular disease and potentially dementia later in life—Trumka floated the idea of a ban if they could not be made safer.
The reactions were swift and dramatic. One chef taped himself to his beloved gas stove in protest, while food activist and chef Alice Waters declared that she’s ready to go electric. On social media, home cooks passionately defended their gas stoves. And then there were the inflammatory comments from elected officials. To cool things off, the Biden administration quickly announced that there were no plans to ban them.
Based on this public discourse, one might think that the only people potentially impacted by gas stove regulations are chefs, aspirational home cooks and politicians. It’s been discussed as yet another lifestyle choice—one of our freedoms—that’s in danger of being taken away from us.
And right on cue, Senators Cruz and Manchin have introduced the Gas Stove Protection and Freedom Act, which would prohibit the CPSC from using federal funds to enact bans on gas stoves.
“The federal government has no business telling American families how to cook their dinner, which is why Senator Cruz and I introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure Americans decide how to cook in their own homes,” said Manchin in a press release.
There’s a lot of hot air blowing around.
Yet it seems that we haven’t heard from communities disproportionately impacted by the ill effects of indoor air pollution. For example, asthma disproportionately affects low-income families and communities of color: 16% of African American non-Hispanic children, 13% of children of Puerto Rican descent and 11% of kids from homes with incomes less than 100% of the federal poverty level. For comparison, the rate of asthma among white children is 7%.
In a recent study, researchers reported that nearly 13% of childhood asthma cases in the U.S. could be attributed to gas stove usage, on par with secondhand smoke. Those numbers increase in states with higher reliance on gas stoves, like Illinois, New York and California. Kids from low-income households may be at even higher risk of gas exposure due to poor stove ventilation and other factors related to their living situation.
Many Americans don’t get to decide how to cook their own meals; they live in rental units, public housing or simply cannot afford to replace whatever cooking apparatus they already have. In New York City and Baltimore, gas outages in affordable housing have left residents without a reliable cooking source for weeks and even months at a time. Residents are provided with an electric hot plate, but one has to wonder how this impacts food choices and nutrition in the long run. For some, cooking with a gas stove is a lifestyle choice, but for many, it’s simply another structural inequity contributing to poor health outcomes.