Gas or electric? When it comes to choosing a kitchen stove, many might believe it’s a simple preference, but when it comes to gas stoves, it turns out there’s more to consider than just temperature control—they might also be impacting your health and the environment.
Because natural gas emits pollutants, using a gas stove comes with environmental and health concerns. We’ve discussed the safety of gas stoves and the fact that they can release dangerous carbon monoxide into the air, especially if they are unvented. But they may have an even bigger impact on the environment and our health than we realized.
Several proposals have been made to limit home gas usage due to these growing concerns. In fact, Berkeley became the first California city to bar natural gas pipes in new buildings as of 2020. Several other California cities have followed Berkeley’s lead, and more states are likely to join in.
Why We Should Be Concerned
A study published in October 2022 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found more evidence that gas use in homes, including gas stoves, could negatively impact both climate change and public health.
According to the study, about one-third of households in the country cook with gas. Gas use, however, is significantly higher in some states, such as California, where the study took place, where more than 60% of homes use gas for cooking.
The researcher collected 185 samples of unburned natural gas from 159 homes in California from three gas companies: Pacific Gas & Electric, SoCalGas, and San Diego Gas & Electric.
Each sample revealed a shocking truth: All contained air pollutants classified as hazardous by the Environmental Protection Agency, which could lead to cancer and other serious health problems.
Despite a large number of air pollutants in samples, there was one particular containment found that was most concerning: benzene. Benzene is a highly flammable chemical with no odor or color, which makes it hard to detect during a leak. Of all the toxins, it was the most prevalent.
A particularly alarming fact is that being exposed to benzene long-term can increase the risk of blood disorders and cancer such as leukemia. Boston College professor and pediatrician Philip J. Landrigan told The New York Times that benzene levels are a long-term concern.
“Benzene accumulates in the body over a person’s lifetime, and health risks increase almost linearly with exposure,” he told The New York Times. “There is really no safe threshold” for benzene exposure.
Unfortunately, limiting gas stove use or venting doesn’t reduce levels of indoor benzene, and other studies have shown that gas stoves are unsafe even when turned off. During their inactive state, they leak alarming quantities of methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.
What We Can Do
Shockingly, California gas appliances and infrastructure emit nearly as much benzene as nearly 60,000 cars each year. In light of the growing evidence of indoor air pollution, both from this study and many others, there is a push to avoid gas entirely and cook with electric stoves instead.
While some consumers may not be able to switch to electric right away, there are some options to help. To encourage homes to switch from gas to electric, President Biden’s climate plan offers incentives. According to Joe Biden’s new climate law, homeowners can now claim energy efficiency tax credits and rebates, enabling them to make positive changes in their homes.