How bad is cooking with gas for your family?

I’ve written about the energy saving advantages of multi-cookers/Instant Pots before, but now let’s dive into the health implications of cooking with gas. The best advice I can give you is to always use your exhaust vent, even in winter, to protect you and your family’s health.

gas burner on highpot cooking over gas

I have cooked with natural gas my entire life and appreciate the ability to see the intensity of the flame and adjust the temperature rapidly. As a kid, we had a range hood that just “filtered” the air and recirculated. Today we have an exhaust fan that blows the air above the stove outside, which up until now I rarely used except after burning something. Going forward I will be using it a lot more.

Biggest air quality concerns with natural gas cooking

According to research from Berkeley Labs and Stanford University the three big concerns are nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and formaldehyde (HCHO).

Natural gas cooking appliances, which are used by a third of U.S. households, can contribute to poor indoor air quality, especially when used without an exhaust hood.1 Gas stoves emit nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and formaldehyde (HCHO), each of which can exacerbate various respiratory and other health ailments.2,3,4 In a study reported in this issue of EHP, researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Stanford University developed a simulation model to estimate gas stoves emissions and the exposures experienced by different household members.5

Cooking Up Indoor Air Pollution: Emissions from Natural Gas Stoves; Wendee Nicole,

The paper goes on to discuss the increase in concentrations of each gas and finds that only NO2 and CO are significant compared to the background air quality in a home. In the summer the NO2 was increased by 25-33% and the CO by 30%. In the winter it is worse for NO2, which increased 35-39% while CO only increased 21%. They explain the seasonal variations based on the lower air ventilation in the winter and lower CO concentrations in general during the winter.

In addition to the combustion gases from burning the natural gas, there are also the by products of cooking the food. According to the California Air Resource Board

Cooking can also generate unhealthy air pollutants from heating oil, fat and other food ingredients, especially at high temperatures. Self-cleaning ovens, whether gas or electric, can create high levels of pollutants as food waste is burned away. Exposure to these can cause or worsen a wide range of health problems such as nose and throat irritation, headaches, fatigue and nausea. Young children, people with asthma and people with heart or lung disease are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of indoor air pollution.

Cooking can contaminate the indoor air with harmful pollutants, but range hoods can effectively remove them. – California Air Resource Board

Health impact from CO and NO2 .

So what does CO and NO2 do to the body?

Breathing air with a high concentration of NO2 can irritate airways in the human respiratory system. Such exposures over short periods can aggravate respiratory diseases, particularly asthma, leading to respiratory symptoms (such as coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing), hospital admissions and visits to emergency rooms. Longer exposures to elevated concentrations of NO2 may contribute to the development of asthma and potentially increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. People with asthma, as well as children and the elderly are generally at greater risk for  the health effects of NO2.

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) Pollution – EPA

Breathing CO can cause headache, dizziness, vomiting, and nausea. If CO levels are high enough, you may become unconscious or die. Exposure to moderate and high levels of CO over long periods of time has also been linked with increased risk of heart disease. People who survive severe CO poisoning may suffer long-term health problems.

Scientists are not sure what the health effects are when a person is exposed to low levels of CO over a long period of time.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – CDC

Average levels in homes without gas stoves vary from 0.5 to 5 parts per million (ppm). Levels near properly adjusted gas stoves are often 5 to 15 ppm and those near poorly adjusted stoves may be 30 ppm or higher.

Carbon Monoxide’s Impact on Indoor Air Quality – EPA

The EPA article goes on to say that acceptable levels of CO range from 25ppm to 50ppm (over an 8-hour time-weighted average). A poorly adjusted stove at 30ppm is already over the low limit for safe exposure.

Between the combustion gasses and the pollutants from heated oils and other ingredients, cooking with gas can cause or worsen health issues for your family, especially those with asthma. Since several members of my family suffer from asthma, I am going to always use the exhaust fan when cooking going forward. I will also use non-gas methods for cooking, such as the toaster oven to bake small things vs our gas ovens, when practical. As long as you have an effective ventilation fan and use it, cooking with gas should not cause significant harm to you or your family.

Happy Greening!

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