On a cold winter day in Boston, there’s nothing I want more than to whip up a savory vegetable curry, light some candles, and pretend like it isn’t 20 degrees outside. If your kitchen is like mine, every meal starts with a familiar click click, igniting a gas flame.
My kitchen, like those of many other apartment dwellers in Boston, has a gas stove with no ventilation. Given a rash of recent headlines suggesting gas stoves could be bad for our health, should I be worried that cooking my soothing curry could be harming me?
The surprisingly emotional debate over gas stoves was sparked in part due to a 2022 study that found about 13 percent of childhood asthma cases in the US can be attributed to gas stove use, and because of a US Consumer Product Safety Commission official suggesting a ban on their sale. Despite the agency later clarifying that it had no plans to prohibit them, conservative politicians, like Rick Perry, former Texas governor and energy secretary, were upset at the prospect of the “environmental woke crowd” coming for people’s stoves.
Culture wars aside, there are research-backed reasons to be aware of the potential hazards of gas stoves, for ourselves and for the environment. Jonathan Levy, a Boston University School of Public Health chair and professor of environmental health, studies indoor air pollution specifically related to gas stoves. He, as well as others, have found direct correlations between gas stoves and personal exposure to nitrogen dioxide, which is associated with more severe asthma and other respiratory issues.
With all of the gas stove hubbub, I thought I would look back at my first two publications on the topic, both from 1998. I was curious what we knew then, how well the papers aged, and what they say about the current moment.
To the Wayback Machine! pic.twitter.com/zGdJLEQi8Q
– Jon Levy (@jonlevyBU) January 13, 2023
Gas stoves also expose us to other hazardous air pollutants, according to Levy, including low levels of benzene, a cancer-causing agent. Although the federal government doesn’t have plans to ban them just yet, cities across the country have been eliminating natural gas hookups in new construction to lower greenhouse gas emissions, since gas stoves emit methane, a potent heat-trapping gas that dramatically fuels climate change.
But many of us have been using gas stoves for years, so is all the outrage and worry overblown? Yes and no.
Climate writer Emily Atkin calls gas stoves the “plastic straws of building emissions,” meaning that even though their overall impact is small-gas stoves account for less than 3 percent of household natural gas use-they provide a door to discuss larger problems. To understand the issue better, The Brink spoke with Levy about indoor air pollution, whether opening a window while cooking makes a difference, and the overdue attention gas stoves are receiving.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.