What to do if you have a gas stove
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
Gas utilities and their trade group used tobacco industry tactics to confuse the public about the health risks of cooking with a gas stove. That is the conclusion of an investigation by NPR and the Climate Investigation Center. About 40% of U.S. homes have a gas stove. So a lot of us are asking, well, what do I do now? Jeff Brady from NPR's Climate Desk worked on the investigation and joins us now. Hi there.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.
SUMMERS: So Jeff, I've got a level with you a minute here. I am one of those Americans who, every night, goes home - most nights, at least - and makes their dinner using their gas stove. So how big of a problem is this for me and everyone else in the same situation?
BRADY: The scientists, doctors and health researchers I've talked with have a range of opinions, but the basic message is that children and people with existing breathing problems are most at risk. There's research showing that just under 13% of childhood asthma cases in the U.S. can be attributed to gas stoves. The industry doesn't agree with that conclusion from that study. But we do know that gas stoves emit nitrogen dioxide and that, in high enough concentrations, can trigger or even cause breathing problems.
SUMMERS: OK. And according to the investigation, scientists and the industry - they've known about this for quite some time. Am I getting that right?
BRADY: Yes. We documented in our investigation that there was growing concern about indoor air pollution from gas stoves back in the 1960s. At that time, the gas stove sales - they were declining. The American Gas Association tried to reverse that with a marketing campaign it called Operation Attack. Around the same time, the industry started funding research on stoves and air quality. They often used the same scientists and public relations firms as the tobacco industry and really latched on to the uncertainties that exist in any body of science. The industry highlighted those uncertainties, and that's kept regulators at bay for decades.
SUMMERS: OK. I mean, anybody who has gone appliance shopping recently knows that stoves - they are not cheap. Many people may not have the money to just go out and buy a new one who are concerned here. So I want to ask, is running the hood over a stove enough to offset the danger?
BRADY: The gas industry has long said that range hoods are an important part of mitigating pollution from cooking, though they tend to focus more on the fumes from cooking the food itself than on nitrogen dioxide from burning natural gas. For range hoods, the problem is most people don't use them because they're loud. And a lot of hoods - they just recirculate air. They don't vent the pollution outside. Also, many homes - they just don't even have a hood. Some state and local governments are changing that. California now requires more powerful range hoods for gas stoves versus electric ones in new homes. But to fix this nitrogen dioxide problem, really, the best thing is to get an electric range when it's time to buy a new stove. Until then, you can use the hood if it vents outdoors or open windows each time you cook. You can also look for ways to use your gas stove less. There are electric induction burners that you can buy for less than a hundred dollars that - they just sit right next to the stove on the countertop.
SUMMERS: Right. And, Jeff, I mean, the industry has avoided regulation of gas stoves for decades. But is there any indication now that regulation could be coming?
BRADY: You probably remember that kerfuffle last winter when a Consumer Product Safety Commission member suggested that the agency might ban the gas stoves. I'm not sure there's appetite for that. And it would apply only to new stoves, not existing ones. Still, the commission is examining this issue now, and we're watching for developments. Most of the change, though, is happening with local governments. They're banning gas hookups in new homes in some places, often as part of their climate change plans. Natural gas is mostly methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. And your stove - it's connected, you know, with a pipe that delivers gas that runs out the back to the meter, to pipelines outside and all the way back to a well where the gas comes out of the ground. That entire system leaks methane from beginning to end.
SUMMERS: All right - truly some news you can use there. That's Jeff Brady from NPR's Climate Desk. And you can read that full investigation on npr.org. Thank you, Jeff.
BRADY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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