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Gas Stoves and Public Health

Yale Public Health Magazine, Focus: Spring 2024
by Daniel Carrión


Kitchen stoves are mundane appliances, although cooking is often part of our most nostalgic memories. Growing up, my grandfather would pick me up from school. When I arrived at our Bronx apartment, I would find my grandmother at the stove making me a snack. My “favorite,” as I called it, was a plate of cut up hot dogs, French fries, and scrambled eggs. It turns out that slightly unhealthy (but delicious) snack was not the only health concern in the kitchen. Research now shows that the gas stove she was standing at was likely emitting high levels of indoor air pollution, and phasing out those stoves is a necessary step in the fight against climate change.

I am an environmental health scientist who works on climate, energy, and disparity research, and their intersections, both in the United States and globally. I often think about the home as the site of environmental disparities and, simultaneously, an opportunity to work towards health equity. Much of my early work was focused on cookstoves in rural Ghana, where most individuals use energy sources like wood, dung, or charcoal for their cooking. Combustion of those fuels produces high levels of air pollution, which is associated with high burdens of disease from pneumonia, heart disease, and stroke in low- and middle-income countries worldwide, with approximately 3.2 million premature deaths each year. More recently, I have been thinking about household energy transitions in the U.S.

People who are familiar with the struggle for environmental justice know that Black and Latino people in the U.S. tend to be affected by poor ambient air quality. However, lesser known is that there are also disparities in indoor air quality. Marginalized and minoritized living spaces tend to be smaller, so air pollutants can build up, and appliances may be older and poorly maintained. There is substantial evidence that gas stoves are among the largest sources of indoor residential air pollution. Work by YSPH Professor Emeritus Brian Leaderer shows, for example, that nitrogen dioxide – a common combustion byproduct from stoves – can cause asthmatic exacerbations for children well below the EPA’s ambient air quality guidelines. These stoves rely on natural gas, a fossil fuel that also produces greenhouse gases. The climate and health basis for switching from gas stoves to electric or induction stoves is clear. Unfortunately, research also shows disparities in who can access, or chooses to undergo, an energy transition.

In 2022, the U.S. Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act that includes subsidies to electrify stoves and home heating for low- and middle-income households nationwide. This funding is incredibly important to catalyze the phaseout of fossil fuels, but there are many unanswered questions. Are the subsidies sufficient? What are the determinants of who adopts the new stoves? Will the phaseouts yield the expected improvements in air quality and health? These are among the many questions that collaborators and I are trying to answer. This semester, students in our Clinic on Climate Justice, Law, and Public Health course (an MPH practicum) are working with the City of New Haven to evaluate a free stove distribution program the city is piloting. Households are receiving free induction stoves, and we are quantifying air quality changes, as well as interviewing the recipients to learn about their perceptions of the new technology. We hope this can inform future distributions.

Ultimately, I am hoping that our work can facilitate clean and equitable transitions for everyone. As for me personally, I cook my “favorite” hot dogs and French fries on an induction stove. I’ll let the nutritional epidemiologists figure out the rest.

Your Action Item For Change:

Switch from a gas to electric stove. Check the Inflation Reduction Act to see if you’re eligible for a rebate.

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