Get Rid of Your Gas and Live Longer
Welcome to Need to Know: Science & Insight, my personal newsletter that looks at what we Need-to-Know at this time of pandemic, climate emergency and unravelling of nature’s life supports.
Gas is the ‘least bad’ fossil fuel many will tell you. Industry-PR folks say it’s “clean burning”; “natural”; “low carbon”; and it’s cheap. And so we bring it into our homes and places of work. Big mistake.
Children living in homes with gas stoves have a 42% higher risk of asthma, according to a meta-analysis in the International Journal of Epidemiology that looked at 41 indoor-air-quality studies, mainly from North America and Europe.
When you cook with gas you get a whole bunch of nasty air pollutants: Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), formaldehyde, benzene, sulfur dioxide (SO2), and particulate matter (PM2.5) along with carbon dioxide (CO2).
Need-to-Know: When combusted all fossil fuels produce a range of harmful air pollutants
If we need another reason to get rid of fossil fuels, remember: Burning fossil fuels is bad for our health as well as being terrible for our climate.
“Fossil-fuel combustion by-products are the world’s most significant threat to children’s health and future.”
— Frederica Perera, Director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Columbia University
Here’s what you need to know about health impacts of two of gas-combustion pollutants: NO2 and PM 2.5
About 40% of US homes have gas stoves. Those homes have 50–400% higher concentrations of NO2 than homes with electric stoves, according to data from the U.S. EPA.
Need-to-Know: Gas stoves are bad for your health
Health impacts of exposure to NO2 are well documented and include decreased lung function in children, respiratory symptoms, and emergency room visits for asthma. In adults, long-term NO2 exposure intensifies allergic reactions, impairs respiratory function and leads to chronic respiratory disease, according to the American Lung Association.
You probably haven’t heard about this. The evidence regarding the health impacts of NO2 is so overwhelming that the World Health Organization (WHO) tightened its air quality guidelines a few months ago. The new standard for NO2 is no more than 13 parts per billion (ppb) averaged over 24 hours.
Few homes using gas stoves can meet this new standard. Here’s a chart showing why:
The new WHO standard is for NO2 outdoors. The U.S. EPA outdoor NO2 standard is 53 ppb average over 24 hours. This means gas stoves may be exposing tens of millions of Americans to “levels of air pollution in their homes that would be illegal outdoors”, according to a study by the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI).
After taking pollution readings inside Canadian homes that used gas for cooking: “All of the researchers were pretty horrified,” said a University of Saskatchewan chemist.
There are no indoor air quality standards in the vast majority of countries including the US and Canada. There are only guidelines which aren’t enforced except in workplaces. Nearly all countries have standards for food and drinking water safety. Indoor air safety is largely ignored despite our being indoors most of the time.
Need-to-Know: There are no indoor air quality standards
PM2.5 particles have a diameter about 1/30th the width of a human hair and can penetrate deep into the lungs, enter the bloodstream and cross the blood-brain barrier. They can have an astonishing array of health impacts including impairing cognitive functions and the immune system, increasing risks of heart attacks, strokes, respiratory diseases and cancer. They are thought to cause between 4 and 5 million deaths a year worldwide.
Another way to look at the health impact: Exposure to outdoor PM 2.5 takes 2.2 years off our average life expectancy according to a study published in June. Since it’s an invisible pollutant, it’s hard to accept that this reduction in our life expectancy is comparable to that of smoking, and more than three times that of alcohol use .
“It would be a global emergency if Martians came to Earth and sprayed a substance that caused the average person on the planet to lose more than 2 years of life expectancy.”
— Michael Greenstone, an economist at the University of Chicago
That’s outside, let’s see how things are inside our homes.
Any form of combustion produces PM2.5 particles, but they can also be produced from cooking alone, particularly when frying food. However, PM2.5 emissions from gas stoves were two times higher compared to electric stoves according to a 2020 study of emissions in homes in Canada.
Need-to-Know : Gas combustion fumes more dangerous because they’re odorless
The health impacts of NO2, and PM2.5 (not to mention the other pollutants) applies to a lesser or great extent for any indoor combustion of gas, including fireplaces. Gas furnaces and water heaters vent outdoors. That venting needs to be done properly so it doesn’t expose you and your loved ones to these largely odourless, but still dangerous fumes.
A Swedish scientist who’d moved his family to Barcelona last fall told me that he loved his compact neighbourhood with its classic four and six story apartment buildings. However, the air pollution was awful.
“Too many diesel buses?” I asked
“No… too many gas heaters operating last winter,” he answered.
Need-to-Know: Banning gas is a real thing
Lots of places are banning gas hook ups in new homes and buildings to reduce air pollution and combat climate change. For example U.K. has banned gas heating in new homes/buildings starting in 2025, in Austria it’s 2023. California has something similar, so has New York City and number of other cities.
WHAT you can do now
Replace gas stove with electric or super-efficient induction cooktop (Prices for the latter are from $60 to $2,000.)
Cook with the kitchen window open and leave it open. It can take 2 hours for the fumes to clear
For heating and cooling, heat pumps are the way to go. They move heat rather than generate it, resulting in far better energy efficiency.
Hope this was useful. Until next time, be well.