Your gas stove is dangerous to your health

Growing evidence indicates burners spew hazardous pollutant

THERE ARE ABOUT 43 million gas stoves in the United States. We don’t typically think of them as harmful to our children, communities, and environment, but a growing body of evidence shows we should.

In January, groundbreaking research from Stanford showed that gas stoves release concerning levels of indoor air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides “within a few minutes of usage” and continuously leak methane even when they are off.

A new study by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, PSE Healthy Energy, Boston University, and HEET deepens our understanding of the problem. Researchers collected unburned natural gas samples from 69 kitchens in the Greater Boston Area, and identified 21 different hazardous air pollutants, including volatile organic compounds like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, and hexane that are known to be toxic. Some of these chemicals are linked to asthma and cancer.

The American Medical Association recently joined the Massachusetts Medical Society in recognizing the association between use of gas stoves, indoor nitrogen dioxide levels, and asthma. As the Supreme Court undermines the EPA’s ability to protect health and the environment, state and federal lawmakers, too, must acknowledge the damage that gas stoves exact and take action to accelerate a nationwide transition to electric stoves.

Gas stove fumes include many of the same chemicals that come out of car tailpipes, and yet gas stoves have no warning label nor require emissions testing, even though we run them in our homes every day. A strong ventilation system may help indoor pollution but is not a solution – it simply moves fumes to the outdoors where they may turn to ground-level ozone, or re-directs the particulate matter (PM) created by stoves outside. These PM pollutants contribute to premature death primarily through cardiovascular disease.

Pollutants such as ozone and fine particulate matter (also known as PM2.5) are also terrible for maternal fetal health. Numerous studies have shown that higher exposure to these types of pollutants is associated with stillbirth, preterm birth, and low-birth weight. The populations at highest risk are people with asthma and minority groups, and especially Black mothers.

Children are especially vulnerable. Exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2), another byproduct of gas stoves, may contribute to the development of asthma and potentially increase susceptibility to respiratory infections, especially in children. According to a 2020 RMI study, children who live in a home with a gas stove are 42 percent more likely to have asthma. Indoor NO2 concentrations can quickly exceed outdoor air quality standards (no US indoor standards currently exist) in homes with poor ventilation.

This is a huge issue for health equity. In crowded housing or historically red-lined communities, families are still subjected to substandard housing and small kitchens with poor ventilation. In my own clinical practice, it is not uncommon for several families to be cramped within one apartment, sharing one kitchen stove.

Gas stoves could be contributing to and compounding existing health disparities: low-income individuals are at greater risk of air pollution exposure. Another recent study showed that people of color are more likely to face high levels of air pollution, demonstrated across income levels. This contributes to enormous health disparities between people of color and white Americans. For instance, Black Americans are three times more likely to die from asthma, and five times more likely to go to the ER. Meanwhile, indoor air pollutants generated with regular gas stove use are unbeknownst to families and remain unchecked.

And it doesn’t stop there.

The primary ingredient of gas–methane–is a leading cause of climate change, responsible for roughly a quarter of human-caused global warming. Methane is released at all stages of the gas system, from drilling and production to pipeline distribution to use in our homes, including from gas stoves. Researchers at Stanford estimated that methane leaking from gas stoves over one year has a climate impact comparable to the annual carbon dioxide emissions of half a million gasoline-powered cars.

Policy changes to transition away from gas stoves will help prevent climate change in addition to improving air quality and health. Roughly 60 jurisdictions across several states have already moved in this direction by adopting requirements for all-electric appliances in new construction. That includes America’s most populated city, New York City, which recently banned gas hookups for all new buildings by 2027.

These measures are critical, but they don’t address the tens of millions of existing gas stoves, many of them in poorly ventilated, higher risk households. To that end, lawmakers should facilitate indoor air quality testing in public housing and other at-risk households and require landlords, where necessary, to protect their tenants and phase out gas-powered appliances. They should also take steps to offer families who own their homes financial assistance and incentives to retire their gas stoves and purchase an electric replacement – something included in the stalled Build Back Better Act before Congress.

Meet the Author

Wynne Armand

Primary care physician, Massachusetts General Hospital
This would begin an affordable, equitable, and necessary transition to electric stoves. And it would acknowledge a simple truth: Gas stoves put children at risk every day. We can do something about it–so we should.

Wynne Armand is a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital Chelsea HealthCare Center and associate director of the MGH Center for the Environment and Health. Her opinion does not necessarily reflect the position of Mass General Brigham.