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Most of us assume that products on the market are safe. It’s reasonable to think that retailers would provide ample information if a product posed a potential threat to your health. We see examples of this all the time, like warning labels on cigarettes or choking hazard warnings on toys with small parts. As consumers, we expect to be informed.
But there’s an appliance that might be in your kitchen that was sold with no warning label, when it should have had one: the gas stove.
Gas stoves are very common. In Massachusetts, half of all homes are hooked up to utility gas for heating and cooking. And though popular culture tells us that cooking with gas is superior, a new groundbreaking study from Stanford confirms several other reports that gas stoves emit unsafe levels of pollutants inside of enclosed spaces, posing a significant threat to health. Burning gas for cooking releases carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde and particulate matter. Just running a stove for mere minutes with poor ventilation can lead to concentrations of these unsafe pollutants that exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality standard for nitrogen dioxide outdoors— and these pollutants are released in your home. Exposure over time is associated with asthma, in children, and can worsen symptoms for people with preexisting respiratory illnesses. In 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health published a study reporting that having a gas stove is the number one trigger for pediatric asthma in the Bay State.
Gas also has negative environmental impacts. The gas used in our homes is made up of methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Methane can leak from transport pipes into the air; in fact, a recent report from Harvard found that methane emissions from leaky gas infrastructure in Boston are six times higher than the state’s original estimates – despite efforts to repair gas pipeline leaks. Once the gas gets to your stove, it still leaks continuously.. This recent study from Stanford estimates that the amount of methane emitted annually from gas stoves alone is equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide pollution from half a million cars driving for one year.
Fortunately, there are better options. Electric or induction stoves cook food without pumping high levels of dangerous pollutants into our homes. Contrary to popular belief, they also work as well, if not better, than their gas counterparts. Moreover, it has the potential to significantly decrease the greenhouse gasses that are fueling the climate crisis since electric-powered appliances can run cleaner and greener as our power system is progressively powered by more renewable energy sources. In Massachusetts, solar generation increased by nearly 4,000 GWh since 2011.
And yet, this isn’t common knowledge. When you go to the store to purchase a gas stove, there’s little to suggest the extent of the health and environmental issues involved with gas, or the benefits of electric or induction cooking.
Every gas stove should include a clear, visible warning label placed there by the manufacturer so that every consumer knows the risks, and the ways to mitigate those risks, like by always using direct external or externally ducted overhead ventilation.
Until then, we need retailers to step up and take initiative to protect public health. Take Best Buy: as the country’s third largest appliance retailer with 23 locations across the state, they have an extensive reach. But more importantly, tackling this issue aligns well with their stated company values. Best Buy has already made great climate commitments, like setting a goal of helping their customers reduce their own carbon emissions by 20% by 2030. The company is also a founding member of the Race to Zero campaign, an initiative that encourages companies to accelerate climate action and reach net-zero emissions. Best Buy has built their brand on improving customers’ lives by introducing them to the latest and greatest tech – and the latest and greatest is not gas-powered.
Adjusting the way we market stoves and teaching consumers about the health risks of cooking with gas will allow the public to protect themselves, make better decisions and help usher in the transition to safer, cleaner and all around superior electric alternatives.
Deirdre Cummings is the Consumer Program director for the MASSPIRG Education Fund, a non-profit non -partisan organization working to protect public health. www.masspirgedfund.org. Brita Lundberg, M.D. is chair of the board at the non-profit Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, a group of health professionals whose mission includes informing the public and policy makers of the human health impacts of climate change.
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