Climate Action

Gas stoves pollute the air and harm your health, studies find

The coronavirus has forced many of us indoors.

With stay-at-home orders in place, transportation has grinded to a halt (literally). And with fewer cars on the road and planes in the sky, outdoor air pollution has plummeted.

Indoor air pollution, however, is another story.

A recent review by the Rocky Mountain Institute concluded that tens of millions of Americans are exposed to harmful air pollution inside. The culprit? Gas stoves. 

The report found that peak indoor air pollution from gas stoves can exceed outdoor legal levels. Despite this, indoor air pollution is largely unregulated. 

Cooking with gas releases harmful air pollutants like nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide, which can lead to multiple health complications. Nitrous oxide is particularly harmful to children, increasing the risk of asthma, learning deficits and cardiovascular disease.

This is especially concerning during a pandemic, when most of us are both stuck indoors and cooking more often at home. Plus, a recent study by Harvard linked increased levels of air pollution with higher COVID-19 death rates. 

About a third of American households cook with gas. And indoor air pollution from these stoves are primarily damaging in smaller residences, like apartments. This means that indoor air pollution, like outdoor air pollution, disproportionately affects low-income communities.

“As a global pandemic shines a new light on health, air pollution and the disproportionate impacts on vulnerable populations, it exposes the need to protect the public from risks both outside and inside the home,” writes lead author of the review Brady Seals, in a blog post that accompanied the release. 

The Rocky Mountain Institute review comes a week after UCLA released a study analyzing the health effects of gas-powered appliances. The UCLA study found that cooking with both an oven and stove for an hour exceeded thresholds of national air quality standards in 90% of modeled scenarios.  

So, what can we do about this air pollution problem? Most of us don’t have the means to replace our gas-powered appliances with electric-powered ones, as the studies suggest. Nor can many of us get up and move to another apartment. 

In lieu of these big changes, we can make smaller adjustments. The researchers suggest creating a well-ventilated environment with an exhaust hood or ventilation fan. If you don’t have those, the study suggests opening a window while cooking. And to warn of dangerously high levels of pollutants, make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector near your kitchen. 

Other solutions include HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters, which can improve indoor air quality even when outdoor air pollution is unhealthy. And, researchers from the American Chemical Society suggest that even houseplants can help filter the air. 

Indoor air pollution has been overlooked as a health crisis for years, despite mounting evidence of its harmful effects. So, long term, we also need structural changes. The review recommends changes at the federal and state level to set air quality guidelines and create better building standards. 

We all share the Earth and its air. Learn more about how you can contribute to a global dataset of air pollution by downloading the Earth Challenge 2020 app, the world’s largest citizen science initiative. And continue electing leaders that prioritize human and planetary health — learn more at Vote Earth.