By Tony Barboza, November 6, 2013
About two-thirds of Southern California households that use natural gas
burners without good ventilation are exposed to excessive levels of air
pollution, a new study found.
A big polluter could be blazing inside your kitchen, its blue flames glowing under your tea kettle or frying pan.
A new study says cooking with a gas stove can expose you to unhealthy levels of air pollution.
About two-thirds of Southern California households that use natural
gas burners without proper ventilation breathe levels of air pollution
so high that they would exceed federal health standards outdoors,
scientists with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found.
After testing gas ranges to
determine their pollution output, researchers used data on more than
6,000 Southern California households and their cooking habits to
estimate people's exposure to air pollutants in the kitchen during a
typical week in the winter.
They discovered that 62% of households using gas burners without
venting range hoods are routinely exposed to excessive levels of
nitrogen dioxide, 9% to carbon monoxide and 52% to formaldehyde, gases
that can cause respiratory problems and worsen asthma and cardiovascular disease.
“Even in Los Angeles, those pollutants don’t exceed air quality
standards outdoors,” said Brett Singer, a staff scientist who studies
indoor air quality at Berkeley Lab. “But inside homes they do.”
The findings have wide implications because half of California homes
have gas burners and most of them do not use range hoods that capture
fumes and vent them to the outside. About one-third of households
nationwide use gas burners for cooking, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
In all, the scientists estimate that as many as 12 million
Californians are exposed to levels of nitrogen dioxide above health
standards as a result of cooking with gas burners. Nationally, there
could be tens of millions more.
The concern over
stovetops may seem surprising because air pollution
has typically been viewed as an outdoor problem -- something spewed out
by smokestacks and exhaust pipes, said Jennifer Logue, a research
scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and lead author of the
But cooking on a gas burner inside your home means burning fuel in a
much more confined space, where the resulting pollutants can’t easily
escape or dilute, particularly if there is no ventilation to the
outside, she said.
Luckily, there are simple ways to limit your exposure. First, use
a range hood. Even a moderately effective one will substantially cut
concentrations of pollutants in your home, researchers said. Cooking on
the back burners can help too, because they sit directly under the
“This is not meant to scare people away from cooking,” Logue said.
“People are very used to cooking so they don't think about it. They
don't use their range hood because they don't consider it a hazard. Our
study really looked at that problem and how significant it is.”