This story is part of Home Tips, CNET’s collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

While it’s unclear exactly what prompted a high-ranking member of US Consumer Product Safety Commission to suggest natural gas stoves may be regulated, or even banned, two worrying studies on the common kitchen fuel may be at the root of it all. A Harvard study from 2022 found natural gas to be more toxic than previously thought and also a propensity for stoves to leak harmful pollutants. Another scientific work published just this January linked natural gas stove use to childhood asthma at an alarming rate.  

In Bloomberg’s striking interview on Monday, CPSC commissioner Richard Trumka Jr. called natural gas stoves, which can be found in as many as 40% of US homes, a “hidden hazard.” “Any option is on the table,” he continued. “Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”

After a firestorm of criticism and pushback, particularly from right-wing pundits, Trumpka quickly clarified his statement about a potential gas stove ban with a Twitter post, also on Monday, saying, “To be clear, CPSC isn’t coming for anyone’s gas stoves. Regulations apply to new products.”

While Trumpka did not point to explicit data or sources in his initial interview, a study completed by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in June of last year may something to do with the advancing rhetoric around natural gas stove safety. The study found that natural gas used in homes contains far more toxins than previously thought, including nitrogen dioxide and methane, and that gas-powered kitchen stoves often leak, even when they’re turned off, putting those in and around the kitchen at higher risk. 

A second more recent study from earlier this month concluded that as much as 12.7% of childhood asthma can be attributed to gas stove use. The work, which was published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found that the rates of asthma caused by gas stoves are even higher in certain states including Illinois (21.1%), California (20.1%) and New York (18.8%).

person testing gas stove holding a monitoring device

A 2022 Harvard study examined the makeup of natural gas along with how much stoves are leaking when not in use. 


Brett Tyron

The 16-month Harvard study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology in June 2022, took samples from 69 stoves in homes serviced by three different natural gas companies across the Boston area. Testing of the precombustion (unburned) methane gas found over 300 chemicals, including 21 airborne toxins. Those toxins notably included low levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, which was discovered in 95% of the natural gas tested.

The study also found that about one in 20 stoves (5%) had gas leakage when not in use that was sizable enough to recommend follow-up with an expert. The leaks were typically so small that they couldn’t be detected by the human nose (natural gas is odorized for safety), but still could pose a potential health risk, according to Drew Michanowicz, a senior scientist at PSE Healthy Energy who worked on the study. 

It’s important to note that this study was intended only to identify potential human risk in using natural gas stoves and did not measure exposure levels of said air toxins or draw any conclusions as to what effects these low levels of exposure might have on health over time.

Is your natural gas stove unsafe?

It’s still too early to make grand or sweeping statements about health risks from using natural gas stoves, but the data from both studies signal that natural gas presents potential health hazards not previously known. More research is needed on exposure levels for the average person living with and using a gas stove. That said, natural gas used in the stoves that were tested proved to contain more harmful gasses than previously thought — notably benzene — which could pose a health risk if exposure to the unburned gas is great enough. That, coupled with gas stoves often leaking gas when not in use, could result in harmful health outcomes over time.

An induction stovetop

Folks with electric or induction stoves need not worry about the risk of natural gas leaks in the kitchen.


GE

How to protect yourself from natural gas leaks

While more research is needed to determine the true dangers of natural gas stoves, there are some steps you can take in the meantime to mitigate risk. 

Make sure your kitchen is well-ventilated with windows. If it’s not a well-ventilated space or you’re not able to keep windows cracked open, consider adding a simple fan to promote airflow. Air purifiers with charcoal filters remove harmful benzene and other air toxins. A basic model costs anywhere from $100 to $150. (Check out our picks for the best air purifiers.) 

A Nest Protect

The Nest Protect smart detector will alert you if there is smoke or carbon monoxide present. 


Lindsey Turrentine/CNET

How to tell if your stove is leaking gas when not in use

While the tiny leaks detected in the study are not likely to pose an immediate threat to your health, larger leaks can. If you suspect a gas leak in your home, contact your gas utility company immediately. They will send out a technician to investigate further and take care of any potential hazards, often at no charge to you.

Use a gas detector 

A simple gas leak detector will help identify the presence of gas around your burner and give an idea roughly how much is leaking. Testing for a gas leak will give you some information to start. If there is in fact a leak, reach out to your gas company for help.

Natural gas leaks will typically release carbon monoxide into the air which can cause poisoning and even death if it reaches high enough levels. Install a carbon monoxide detector or smart smoke and CO detector like the Nest Protect to make sure your home is not at risk.

Use your nose

Natural gas is treated with an odorant to help detect leaks so if you smell that unique smell when the burners are off, you might have an issue. But if the leak is small enough, you won’t be able to smell it with just your nose and it still may be doing harm over time.

More oven intel

This story was originally published in July 2022 and has been updated with new information.





Source link

Author

  • Arnold Wilkes

    Senior Technology Editor Initially worked as a technical writer Editor, Arnold is a cybersecurity specialist, penetration examiner, and a dedicated Java and PHP developer.