The debate about the future of the gas stove has been going on for years, long before last week, when it turned into a full-blown culture war.
Public health officials, researchers and doctors have long taken notice abundant searches linking gas stove pollution to respiratory problems, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced in December it was looking into health risks to determine what regulations would be appropriate for the gas stove.
But after a CPSC insider told Bloomberg in an interview last week that “products that can’t be made safe can be banned,” the fervor quickly grew. Republicans (and some Democrats) described the commissioner’s remark as a sign that the Biden administration was coming for the gas stove as the next attack on American freedom. And many defenders of the gas stove have come out insisting that it’s the best way to cook.
The brawl spawned some new myths about gas stove regulation and perpetuated other long-standing misconceptions. Here’s how to separate fact from fiction.
Myth 1: Biden – or federal regulators – want to take your gas stove away
The hysteria that followed when the Consumer Product Safety Commission said it would take a closer look at gas stoves could be summed up by a tweets by Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX). “I will NEVER give up my gas stove. If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can snatch it from my cold, dead hands. COME AND GET IT!!”
Some confusion stems from remarks by CPSC Commissioner Richard Trumka Jr., who told Bloomberg that “any option” is on the table as the independent agency considers the dangers posed by the gas stove: “Products that cannot be returned sure can be banned,” he said. The CPSC later clarified these observations: The commission said there is no ban under consideration and “the CPSC is looking at ways to reduce risks related to indoor air quality.”
There are many other options, such as requiring the sale of range hood ventilation along with the gas stove and warning labels, that the commission could consider before an outright ban. And any CPSC regulations for stoves would apply to new products being sold, not those already in people’s homes.
It’s also not the White House that’s calling all the shots here. CPSC commissioners are appointed by the president, but otherwise its regulations are not overseen by the White House, unlike the Environmental Protection Agency process. Even states and cities are already taking steps to minimize the climate and health risks associated with burning gases indoors.
The White House said so does not support a banbut it’s promoting incentives through the Inflation Reduction Act that help people voluntarily electrify their homes.
Myth 2: The dangers of the gas stove are “new”
In a letter in CPSC’s Trumka, Senator JD Vance (R-OH) calls the gas stove a “new ‘hidden danger’ based on limited research.” In another section, Vance says there is a “lack of convincing evidence.”
The study that garnered national attention valued that nearly 13 percent of childhood asthma cases in the United States are related to the use of gas stoves, similar to the level caused by secondhand smoke. That study builds on a 2013 evidence review, which looked at 41 studies from multiple countries, dating back to 1977, to conclude that children living in households with gas stoves had a 42 percent a higher risk of currently being diagnosed with asthma and a 24% higher risk of being diagnosed with asthma at some point in their lives.
“Although the effects of gas cooking and indoor NO2 on asthma and wheezing have been found to be relatively small … the public health impact could still be considerable because gas cooking is so widespread,” concluded the authors of the 2013 evidence review.
These studies specifically looked at the impact of gas cooking. But there’s an even longer trail of studies looking at the polluting nitrogen dioxide, which is emitted from gas stoves, and the harm it does to people exposed to it outdoors. In fact, outdoor NO2 pollution is regulated by the EPA, which has done its own extensive reviews NO2 risks.
Myth 3: No type of cooking can compare to gas stoves
The notion that gas is vastly superior to all of its alternatives is pervasive and is enthusiastically supported by both appliance manufacturers and the natural gas industry. Whirlpool, which produces both gas and electricity, makes a practical claim on its own website“If you enjoy preparing meals that require rapid changes in temperature, gas ranges may be the way to go.”
Gas vs electric comparisons are usually pitting apples against oranges: the contemporary gas stove versus dated electric stoves. The better modern equivalent is induction, which uses electromagnetic energy that makes cookware itself a source of heat, leaving the stovetop relatively cool. These new models feature settings that allow you to cook precisely at a certain temperature and retain that heat, with less risk of scalding. Other positive reviews note that induction stoves are easier to clean and can boil water faster than gas stoves.
Chefs are also more divided over induction versus gas than the public realizes. In a Vox interview, Jon Kung, a Detroit chef, noticed who prefer induction because it improves indoor air quality and heat in the home. He also noted that you can use woks with it, a common complaint about quitting the gas. Sierra magazine spoke to other chefs who prefer induction. “For me, it was a cheap no-brainer,” chef Michael Godlewski said as he opened an all-induction restaurant in Pittsburgh in spring 2022 called EYV (Eat Your Veggies). “They asked me where I wanted the gas line, and I said, ‘Nowhere.'”
An induction range is expensive; it can cost you thousands of dollars. But the cost is coming down. One program that some households may qualify for is the Inflation Reduction Act kitchen appliance tax credits and rebates. 25C tax credits cover a range of energy efficient products for the home, including an induction range. It allows you to deduct 30 percent of the cost of electrical work on your home (up to $1,200). Later this year, there will also be discounts available, under the Discount program for the high-efficiency electric home. Households representing up to 150% of the local median income will lower initial appliance and installation costs. Low-income families (below 80% of the median income) can have all costs covered by the program.
Meanwhile, families who don’t want to wait or don’t qualify could also opt for a plug-in portable induction hobwhich costs much less and is suitable for renters.
Myth 4: Most of the US uses gas stoves
Gas stoves are common but not ubiquitous. According to the Energy Information Administration, on average, 38 percent of the country uses gas for cooking, or about 40 million stoves. But those numbers vary widely depending on where you are. New York, New Jersey, Illinois and California have the highest gas stove rates in the country, over 60%. Southeastern states they have some of the lowest rates in the country, under 20%.
Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) reacted to the CPSC uproar tweet“I can tell you that the last thing that would ever leave my house is the gas stove we cook on.”
Manchin himself may have a gas stove, but many in his state do not. Indeed, a survey of the STREET in 2020 found that a quarter of West Virginia residents have a gas cooking appliance, while 73% use electricity.
The consequences of gas appliances are also not distributed evenly. Children, who have smaller lungs, are at a higher risk of developing complications from NO2, as are older adults and people with pre-existing health conditions. Another risk factor is if a person is already exposed to other sources of pollution than the stove. They might be living near a highway, an industrial site, or even in an area with concentrated gas appliances that all vent outdoors, so they’re breathing dirty air both outdoors and indoors.
Myth 5: As long as you’re using ventilation, the risks don’t matter
The American Gas Association website points out that with ventilation such as a work hood, the gas stove is no problem for indoor air quality. The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal echoed this: “The studies frustrated by the climate left do not take into account the effects of ventilation. One even sealed up a test kitchen with plastic sheeting in an attempt to prove that gas stoves increase pollution.
Ventilating the kitchen is the only solution we have to reduce exposure to pollutants when the stove or oven is on. But in practice, some hoods do not expel the air outside but rather recirculate it inside, or people may be in a confined space where pollution builds up more quickly. Some problems are behavioral, such as people not even using the hood they have, neglecting to turn it on. Part of the problem is that not all hoods are capable of filtering NO2 levels. As a journalist Michael Thomas explainedRange hoods don’t always work well in the real world. Studies, such as a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) found that code-compliant hoods in California still only captured about half of the NO2 pollution.
Most recent research from LBNL found that it can also be a gas stove methane leakage, a greenhouse gas, even when the appliance is switched off. Inside the home, the methane level is likely low enough that researchers don’t consider these leaks a health threat. But methane is even a bigger problem, not just because of its climate hazards, but because it contributes ground-level ozone that damages human health.
One of the problematic pollutants that comes from a natural gas stove is nitrogen dioxide, which causes respiratory problems.Davide Bonaldo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images