While a wealth of information exists on the particulars of the human diet, new research is revealing that the ways food is heated and prepared makes a big difference regarding indoor air pollution.1 Indeed, kitchen cooking is one of the leading factors in contamination generation within homes.2
In this blog, we’ll cover the basics of how using gas appliances affects air quality and health.
- Gas stoves and ovens rapidly decrease air quality.
- Unlike outdoor pollution (which is dispersed over large areas), indoor pollution is contained within homes and structures.
- When cooking, it’s best to ventilate by opening windows, using fans, and activating range hoods.
Gas appliances are significant sources of indoor air pollution
Natural gas stoves and ovens have become a hot topic in news and legislation recently. Indeed, research has demonstrated that these appliances negatively impact air quality.
- Active: Whenever a gas stove is activated3, the lit burners produce nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), formaldehyde (CH2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), and other particulate matter harmful to respiratory and cardiovascular health. Gas combustion also uses up oxygen supplies in the surrounding air.
- Inactive: According to a 2022 study4, these devices continually discharge toxic compounds even when they aren’t turned on. These emissions include potential carcinogens (cancer causing agents) like benzene (C6H6), ethylbenzene (C8H10), toluene (C6H5CH3), and others. The amount of released benzene is roughly that of a cigarette, making ambient levels comparable to regular second-hand smoke exposure. Furthermore, the passive release of harmful materials increases dramatically when gas stoves are turned on.
The impact of burning gas on health
As mentioned above, significant amounts of pollutants are produced when natural gas is burned. Breathing these substances is closely linked to increased likelihood of asthma and inhaler requirements.5 They also play a role in exacerbating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.6
While outdoor buildups of harmful gases are higher near roadways (particularly during high-traffic times), vehicle pollution is dispersed over large areas. Gas burners in kitchens, however, seal their byproducts inside. Without proper ventilation, these concentrations have no way to escape, and are more likely to be inhaled, particularly during cooking times.
Improving air quality while cooking
Food preparation is an essential part of life. Regardless of the potential implications of using stoves, people still need to eat roughly three times a day. Certain steps can be taken to improve indoor air quality and decrease the impact of any harmful particle release.
Most stoves have vents and/or range hoods. It’s a very good idea to activate these devices when using a stove. From there, ensuring some form of ventilation can significantly improve conditions. Opening windows and using exhaust fans makes a big difference in the dispersion of harmful substances.
If you’d like to check how cooking affects air quality, a range of indoor air quality monitors are available. One option for everyday use is the Aranet4. However, these devices focus on common, easily measurable parameters like CO2, temperature, and humidity. As such, they serve as proxies for harmful particulate matter, rather than direct indicators.
Transitioning away from gas
As the public perception of gas-burning appliances appears to be in decline, there is a growing movement toward electric appliances. And while some may point out that electricity is generated through the burning of fossil fuels, this combustion occurs miles away from the location drawing power. As such, the distance severely negates risk factors for those cooking at home.
It’s also worth considering that electrical devices – like induction ovens, often boast better performance than their gas-guzzling counterparts. In addition to producing less heat and pollution, these instruments heat cooking instruments more effectively. These, and other factors are spurring both residential and commercial kitchen renovations.
- Additive impacts on particle emissions from heating low emitting cooking oils. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1352231013002148
- Characterization of Indoor Particle Sources: A Study Conducted in the Metropolitan Boston Area. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1637850/pdf/envhper00302-0067.pdf
- Are gas stoves really dangerous? What we know about the science. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jan/15/gas-stoves-pollution-alternatives
- Measuring Air Quality Impacts of Gas Stove Leaks. https://www.psehealthyenergy.org/our-work/publications/archive/measuring-air-quality-impacts-of-gas-stove-leaks/
- 24-h Nitrogen dioxide concentration is associated with cooking behaviors and an increase in rescue medication use in children with asthma. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0013935117300750?via%3Dihub
- Personal exposure to air pollution and respiratory health of COPD patients in London. https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/58/1/2003432