Gas stoves can give children asthma and put adults at risk of cancer by emitting the same particles belched out by cars and trucks – and can do so even when they’re switched off, scientists warn.
Dr Jonathan Levy, an environmental health professor at Boston University, wrote for The Conversation that the stoves found in at least 40 million U.S. households pollute the indoor air with nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
That is the same pollutant associated with major highways. Because of the more enclosed nature of an indoor room when compared to outside, the pollution in a gas stove kitchen could be stronger than it is on a major freeway.
Continued NO2 exposure can cause significant lung damage. Children in the home may be more likely to develop asthma and adults are at an increased risk of suffering from respiratory conditions, or even cancer.
Gas stoves also continue to emit harmful chemicals when they are off.
They include Methane, which can cause a person to have trouble breathing and cause a rapid heartbeat. Benzene may also be leaked from switched off gas stoves. The chemical has been linked to the development of multiple cancers – though experts are unsure if the amount of benzene leaked by stoves is a enough to be of serious concern.
A study published in 2013 found that small increases in the levels of nitrogen dioxide matter in household air (green) could significantly increase a child’s risk of developing asthma. In the most severe of cases, it could more than double a child’s risk of suffering from the chronic condition (yellow)
Gas stoves emit the same NO2 pollutant often associated with road traffic, and even while switched off can be spreading methane and benzene into the household’s air, an expert warns
‘[NO2] is a byproduct of fuel combustion,’ Levy explained.
‘Nitrogen dioxide exposures in homes have been associated with more severe asthma and increased use of rescue inhalers in children.
‘This gas can also affect asthmatic adults, and it contributes to both the development and exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.’
A 2013 study found that children living in homes with a gas stove were 42 percent more likely to be diagnosed with asthma than their peers.
Another 2013 study by researchers at Yale University found that every five parts per billion (PPB) increase of NO2 in the air led to a significant increase in wheezing and asthma in children in the home.
Levy also warns that size of the home, size of the room the kitchen is in and the home’s ventilation are crucial factors as to how dangerous a gas stove may be.
He cites a study that found that NO2 levels in the home often exceeded typical safety standards when they were being used.
In many homes, the gas stove is a greater source of pollution than outdoor sources because of how concentrated the gasses can become in a small area.
The most frequent source of NO2 in the environment is road traffic, as combustion engines that are still used in a vast majority of cars are constantly emitting it.
Some people who live in larger homes with more-adequate ventilation may still be at risk from their gas stove as well.
While opening a window, having a range hood, or other strategies can significantly reduce exposure, the gas can still be emitted in worrying quantities.
Concerns go beyond NO2, though. Gas stoves not in use emit methane, a dangerous chemical that has been highlighted in recent years for both its negative impacts to human health and the environment.
Dr Jonathan Levy (pictured), a professor at Boston University, recommends for the 40 million American households still with a gas stove to make the switch to electric
The gas is not considered to be toxic, but does pose risks is a person is exposed to it in large quantities.
It can cause issues breathing – as the gas displaces oxygen – and as a result lead to shortness of breath, rapid heart beat, fatigue and other respiratory and circulatory problems.
Levy says that around five percent of homes with gas stoves are suffering from methane leaks that are large enough to require repair – without the occupant even knowing.
Benzene could be being emitted by a person’s switched off stove as well. The gas in considered to be a carcinogen, having been linked to leukemia and other blood-based cancers.
The amount of benzene coming from the stove is limited, though, and does not reach levels considered to be toxic by health officials. There are still worries over continued exposure, though.
Most recently available data from 2015 estimates that around 40 million U.S. households are using a gas stove – or nearly a third of homes in the country.
This means that a large portion of Americans may be unknowingly exposed to dangerous chemicals on a consistent basis without even knowing.
Levy, like many other environmental health experts who have long warned against usage of these stoves, believes that the potential health risks should be enough to push people into making the switch to an electric device.
‘In my view, even if you’re not driven to reduce your carbon footprint—or you’re just seeking ways to cook pasta faster—the opportunity to have cleaner air inside your home may be a strong motivator to make the switch,’ he said.