Debate Over Gas Stoves Heat Up In Oregon

Salem, Ore. – The Oregon Health Authority says it is not taking an official stance on gas stoves or whether or not the state should consider banning them in new homes.

“We don’t regulate stoves. But we do know that any kind of combustion, whether it’s fuel in a car, or burning wood, or natural gas to varying degrees there is going to be emissions that can interfere with our respiratory system and immune system,” said Gabriela Goldfarb, Environmental Public Health Section manager, Oregon Health Authority, Public Health Division. “So, your goal should be to minimize exposure.”

The issue came into the publics scope after a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research showed that about one-in-eight childhood asthma cases can be linked to gas stoves. The Biden Administration and the US Consumer Product Safety commission floated the idea of banning them completely. The President has since said he will not purse that. But that didn’t stop the backlash. The debate stirred up quite a bit of outrage from Republicans, with many posting pictures of their gas stoves in use with remarks of defiance, or in Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ case, putting a gas stove on the Gadsden Flag.

Multnomah County issued a similar report as the one in the Journal. It’s researchers found children living in homes with gas stoves are 42% more likely to experience asthma symptoms and 24% more likely to be diagnosed with lifetime asthma. About half of the homes in Multnomah County currently use a gas appliance, but officials did not respond to comment on whether it is considering action against them. OHA shares what you should do if you are concerned.

“The most important thing is good ventilation. Our advice is run a vent hood, if you have one, every time you cook, and make sure it vents to the outside air. If not, use a fan and open windows,” Goldfarb said. “Generally, except when we’re having an extraordinary event like wildfire, the air outside is going to be cleaner than the air in your home.”

She adds, there’s new opportunities for people to switch away from a gas stove.

“Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act. That’s going to have a lot of funding for people to buy things like induction stoves or electric stoves that they can take advantage of to replace fuel burning in their home with a cleaner source,” Goldfarb said.

But Melanie Plaut, a retired doctor now volunteering with Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility says none of this information is new. On top of the issues with asthma, researchers have long known about gas stoves ties to cancer as well.

“I think there’s been a lot of counter pressure from the gas industry. The Environmental Protection Agency as long as ago as 1986 flagged the concern about gas stoves to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, but no action was taken,” Plaut said. “Everything we burn we breath, and this is doubly true inside our home where gas stoves, even when they’re vented, expose us to substances like nitrogen dioxide and benzene that are absent when we cook with electricity.”

Not only that, she say’s you’re being impacted by these chemicals even when you aren’t cooking.

“This is relatively new research, it’s about a year old and it came out of Stanford University. They looked at the unburned gas that’s leaking into your home, and it’s contaminated with multiple compounds that are known to be carcinogenic. The largest concentration is of benzene. And benzene is a cancer causing chemical that is not safe at any level. Three quarters of the benzene that leaks, leaks when your stove is off because the connection in your home cannot be perfectly sealed. So it is true that it is leaking 24/7.”

Plaut adds, now is the time to start moving away from using natural gas in homes because we finally have made the advances to make it happen.

“Induction stoves have gotten more popular and better, so there’s a good alternative to gas stoves for people who like to have a stove that responds quickly. So nowadays when people are redoing their kitchen or getting new appliances, people weigh the options very carefully.”

NW Natural, provides natural gas to more than 2.5 million homes across Oregon, and it believes there is not a scientific reason to be having a discussion around banning gas stoves. It told KXL in a statement: “It has been alarming to see the extent to which some organizations will go to make misleading or inaccurate claims based on poorly constructed studies that are used to justify sweeping conclusions to support electrification. This diminishes the importance of rooting policy in sound science.”

The natural gas provider went on to site a study that says “ventilation plays a key role in mitigating cooking-related air emissions that come from both gas and electric stoves. This is why kitchen exhaust has been required for all new homes in Oregon for many years, whether they have gas or electric cooking.”

But as health officials mentioned, ventilation or not, those chemicals are still being emitted and you’re being exposed to them. Plus Plaut adds “ventilation has been shown to help with particulate matter that’s created while cooking, but ventilation has not been shown to significantly reduce nitrogen dioxide. Possibly because it is heavier than air.”

NW Natural pressed even harder citing another study, writing “no study we are aware of has found health effects associated with the use of gas stoves under proper ventilation conditions. In fact, a global study conducted on this topic, The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood, evaluated over half a million children from 47 countries, including the U.S., over 5 years – finding no association between gas cooking and asthma in children.”

Though, Plaut said she’s heard this argument many times over.

“The gas companies of course have a vested interest in cherry picking the one study that purported to claim that there was no evidence for asthma risk with gas stoves. There are significant weaknesses to this study. It relied on surveying children, and of course children don’t always know exactly what kind of cooking energy is used in their home, and there was no measurements of nitrogen dioxide. Every other study that has been looked at, it has been made very clear when you look at nitrogen dioxide levels, all the way down to the lowest level, there is an association with asthma symptoms,” Plaut said. “There’s really no doubt about two important matters, one is homes with gas stoves have higher levels of nitrogen dioxide, and the gas industry cannot dispute that. Then number two, higher levels of nitrogen dioxide increase the risk of asthma in children, and again, they cannot dispute that.”

While OHA is not taking any official action on gas stoves “in recent years, OHA was given the direction from the legislature, and funding, to establish a ‘Healthy Homes Grant Program.’ We’re going to be helping people who have lower incomes, communities of color, environmental justice communities to keep their homes safe and healthy. And that includes making their indoor air quality safer. As we get that program up and running, that will be one of the focal areas,” Goldfarb said.

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