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Why natural gas stoves are harmful to our health and climate 2022

YesAs stoves are associated with a certain allure: an image of iconic chefs cooking in sought-after, high-end kitchens over an open flame. At the same time, electric stoves and their dated coils have been abandoned by many home culinary enthusiasts. But recently, that knowledge is being turned upside down as the world has a more complete understanding of the harmful health and climate impacts associated with our love of gas stoves.

A startling study published in January by Stanford University found that natural gas stoves—which more than a third of American households use—can have emissions related to indoor air pollution levels, and climate change earlier than previously thought. Can play a big role in running Even when they were not being used, natural gas stoves were shown to release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and other harmful pollutants—including formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen dioxide. Includes – through leaks and in the service line.

The findings beg a much bigger question as to whether homes around the world should potentially move to safer, and more efficient, electric induction stoves.

Methane leak found in US kitchen

Historically, residential homes and buildings have been a blind spot when it comes to methane emissions. Very few studies have tried to measure how much methane is released by our living and working buildings; One study suggests that we can reduce this effect in cities. On top of this, the fossil fuel industry has worked hard to turn the gas stove into one of America’s most preferred appliances.

Stanford Earth System Science professor Rob Jackson and his team at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment are helping to change this understanding with their January gas stove study – the first to analyze the issue. Publishing your work in a peer-reviewed journal environmental science and technologyIn this study, the team measured the methane and nitrogen oxides released in 53 California homes during different stages of the cooking process. In total, 18 brands of gas cooktops and stoves aged between three and 30 years were analyzed.

They estimate that methane from natural gas stoves in the US is equivalent to emissions from gasoline-powered cars each year. Using just one gas stove for a year emits an average of 649 grams of methane – equivalent to the number of emissions from driving 40 miles. In addition to contributing to climate change, these pollutants can trigger health effects including respiratory diseases such as asthma and reduced cognitive performance, both of which children are particularly vulnerable to. Small particles of particulate matter released from the gas can also penetrate deep into the lungs and, if exposed in the short term, can cause irritation not only in the lungs but also in the eyes, nose and throat.

Methane is emitted not only when the stovetop is in use, but also when it is turned off. In fact, more than three-quarters of all methane emissions released by stoves occurred when they were off, the study found—a phenomenon possibly explained by leaking pipes, and between natural gas hookups and their appliances. Poor fit connection strength. “Just having a stove in your home poses a potential exposure route for air pollutants,” says Seth Sokoloff, executive director of PSE Healthy Energy, a research institute collaborating with Stanford University on the study.

The size of your kitchen and the type of ventilation available can also change the level of impact of a gas stove, explains study co-author Eric Lebel of Stanford. For example, in one of the rooms measured, using an oven without any ventilation resulted in nitrogen oxide levels exceeding safety standards established by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

For example, according to a report published by the National Center for Healthy Housing and Enterprise Community Partners, baking a cake in a gas oven measured nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels at 230 parts per billion (ppb). According to the Research Consortium of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, this is similar to the amount of NO2 found in smog (about 200 ppb).

While the Stanford study only looked at a small number of households, the team believes their state-level findings could be applied to the rest of the country, with little regional variation, suggesting that The impact of natural gas equipment is underestimated. And two decades of residential methane emissions data analyzed by climate nonprofit RMI support the research. “The shocking thing in the United States is that gas stoves don’t need to be universally taken out,” RMI renewable energy expert Brady Seals told TIME. “So, most of the pollution that is emitted in the kitchen stays there.”

Based on all this, Jackson “absolutely” believes that gas stoves are more harmful to the environment and human health than their electric counterparts. “The stove is the only appliance where we are allowed to directly pollute our homes,” he says. “Every furnace or water heater needs to be vented out—we’d never stand on a breathing car tailpipe, yet we’re perfectly happy standing at our stoves and breathing their pollution.”

Are induction stoves better for your health and climate?

For decades, induction stoves have been used in Europe, which currently makes up more than 35% of the global market. In the US, however, induction stoves have just started to go mainstream, with energy experts and appliance manufacturers now touting them as an environmentally friendly alternative to natural gas stoves.

Like electric stoves, induction stoves plug into an electrical source, but they differ in how the heat is produced. As their name suggests, induction stoves use induction technology. An electric current is passed through a coiled copper wire under the cooking surface, which creates a magnetic flux that travels directly to the cooking pan to generate heat. This magnetic induction essentially transfers energy from the stovetop directly to any cookware that has a magnetic base. It’s likely that many of the pots and pans in your kitchen right now will be suitable for induction stoves, including stainless steel, cast iron, and porcelain enamel on metal. (To find out if your device is compatible, appliance manufacturer Frigidaire recommends a simple “magnet test.”)

Since heat is transferred directly to the pot or pan, stove tops are cold to the touch. This more precise method of heating means more powerful cooking: Induction stoves can boil water up to 50 percent faster than their gas and electric counterparts while maintaining a constant and precise temperature, notes Frigidaire.

Induction stoves are much more efficient than traditional electric and gas stoves. Government-backed energy efficiency monitor Energy Star notes that induction cookware transfers heat with about 85% efficiency, far higher than gas (32%) and most electric stoves (75-80%). “The per unit efficiency of induction cooking tops is about 5 to 10% more efficient than conventional electrical resistance units and about three times more efficient than gas,” a spokesman for the US Environmental Protection Agency told TIME. If all US cooking tops sold in 2021 use induction technology that meets usage guidelines recommended by the government, Energy Star estimates the cost savings will exceed $125 million.

But this increased efficiency comes at a higher price tag. Induction stoves start at around $1,000, compared to a few hundred dollars for a traditional electric or gas stove. So, is this more expensive, yet highly efficient, stove also better for your health?

Like other home appliances, including microwaves and toasters, induction stoves emit electromagnetic waves. But the amount is too low to be considered safe under the standards set by the governing agency Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Although some early studies have raised questions about whether these electromagnetic fields may be harmful to children and fetuses, the World Health Organization in 2007 found no compelling evidence of medium-frequency magnetic fields having long-term effects on human health. In comparison, gas stoves have been linked to a 42% higher rate of asthma in children.

Kenneth MacLeod, a professor at Binghamton University in New York who studies the effects of electromagnetic fields on humans, says controlled studies to determine the potential effects of induction cooktops are difficult and generally do not offer enough evidence. do that the equipment is harmful. “Are any of these effects dangerous?” He says. “In terms of what you might be exposed to in the house, I’m unaware of any harmful effects.”

As with any other appliance, when using an induction stove, be sure to read and understand the safety instructions completely. This includes using appropriately sized and manufactured cookware and maintaining a safe distance using the cooking farms in the back.

future energy transition

The long-term effects of continuing to burn fossil fuels and the associated climate implications further complicate health issues – from poor air quality to heat stress and worsening natural disasters. “Although we may be feeling the health impacts from our gas stoves sooner than the climate impacts,” says Seals at RMI, “at a macro level, the burning gas in our homes makes us rely on these climate-disrupting fuels and leaky infrastructure.” who supports them.”

To limit climate change and its effects, science says we need to transition away from fossil fuels. To do this, cities in some states such as Massachusetts and California are pushing for legislation to ban natural gas hookups in new buildings and to promote all-electric new construction through incentives and rebates. In December 2021, New York City became the largest city in the country to implement such regulation.

“The idea is that we don’t want to shut down these gas appliances as infrastructure for the next 20 or 30 years—that’s how long a gas stove will last,” Lebel says. “If someone buys a gas stove today, that appliance is going to be in a person’s kitchen for the next several decades.”

Meanwhile, not everyone can afford to upgrade right away, and the environmental impacts of producing new stoves and discarding old ones before the end of their lives shouldn’t be overlooked, the Stanford researchers noted. Like electric vehicles, stoves require a better understanding of sourcing more resources, such as minerals. So, until the right time to opt for induction—maybe when searching for a new apartment or taking advantage of discounts to make a switch—researchers suggest that electrification is the way forward for residential kitchens. Take small initial steps.

These include strategies such as investing in induction pots and pans that can be used on other types of stoves and updating electrical outlets and appliances, such as induction stoves, as time and money allow. Until then, always turn on the hood vent or fan and open nearby windows when operating a natural gas stove.

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