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Gas stoves targeted as U.S. congressman alleges consumer watchdog has sat on decades of worrisome health data

By Rachel Koning Beals

As more cities ban new gas hookups, Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi has sent a letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission over venting standards and other concerns

A U.S. congressman wants to know why the nation's leading consumer protection agency has not established safety standards or provided warnings to consumers on the health risks that he and at least two major studies believe come with the air pollutants emitted from popular gas stoves.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat from suburban Chicago who chairs the House Oversight Committee's economic and consumer policy subcommittee, on Monday sent a letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. He shared the letter with MarketWatch.

Krishnamoorthi specifically asks why there has been no action from the CPSC despite, he alleges, the commission being aware of the potential dangers since 1986 based on an EPA report.

A CPSC spokesperson confirmed receipt of the letter and said the commission is reviewing the requests. The American Gas Association (AGA) said the CPSC is currently leading an effort to look at gas range emissions and how to limit or reduce identified emissions. AGA, along with other groups, is involved in the main working group organized by CPSC, and with two of the sub-committees.

The lawmaker asked for an update on any new attention given to the issue or whether the commission believes legislation should address the health impacts from the popular appliance. The reach is significant: over one-third of U.S. households -- more than 40 million homes -- cook with gas, and that doesn't include restaurants.

The Krishnamoorthi letter notes, citing studies, that gas stoves emit harmful levels of several pollutants, with particular emphasis on asthma-risking nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Homes with gas stoves have average NO2 levels ranging from roughly 50% to 400% higher than homes with electric stoves, which require venting, he writes. Manufacturers of both types of stoves include General Electric(GE), Whirlpool(WHR), Samsung and LG.

When using gas ranges, basic cooking activities, such as baking a cake or roasting meat, can produce indoor NO2 emissions two to three times greater than both the World Health Organization's indoor NO2 guideline of 106 parts per billion (ppb) and EPA's outdoor NO2 standard of 100 ppb, the letter says.

Some studies have shown that children living in homes with gas stoves have a 42% greater risk of experiencing asthma symptoms and a 24% greater risk of being diagnosed with asthma, which some experts equate to living with second-hand cigarette smoke.

The letter implies that greater attention could be given to ventilation (for example, using an exhaust hood). Unlike with gas furnaces, water heaters and dryers, no federal laws or guidelines require that gas stove emissions be vented to the outdoors. And though they're fairly common, Americans aren't always likely to turn on their vent hoods, studies have shown.

Related: The bitter breakup with gas stoves is getting closer -- here's another reason why

Earlier this year, a Harvard University study showed that the natural gas that lights gas stoves contains low concentrations of several pollutants and chemicals linked to certain blood cancers and respiratory issues.

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health report showed that unlike other gas appliances, such as water heaters that are usually placed away from active living spaces, cooking appliances directly expose people to their emissions. These emissions include formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and nitric oxides that can trigger asthma, coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing.

A recent Stanford University study, meanwhile, was more focused on the climate- change impact of gas stoves. But global warming itself has also raised concern in the medical field as the primary public-health issue of our time. Stanford researchers included a look at the shorter-lasting but more-potent methane, in addition to carbon dioxide. Fossil-fuel combustion for energy accounts for about 74% of total Earth-warming U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions, the Energy Information Agency says.

Chefs and home cooks alike have long championed gas stoves and ranges for more heat speed and control when preparing food. The electric-range industry, and Consumer Reports, have stressed, meanwhile, the significant strides that have been made for gas alternatives since electric coils emerged in the middle of last century.

Both the health and climate findings, and now stepped-up congressional interest, may accelerate what has been a slow shift among some cities and states to ban new natural-gas hookups in house and apartment construction. Most older gas appliances are grandfathered in.

New York City, for one, has a law that prohibits the combustion of fossil fuels, namely gas, for cooking and heating in select new buildings. The ban will apply to new structures under seven stories tall starting in 2024, and to larger buildings in 2027. That measure is significant not only because of the city's population size, but also because of its colder climate. The state was considering its own bill, but the effort died in budget talks this spring.

Related: Today's kids will live through 3 times as many climate-change disasters as their grandparents: report

Already, Berkeley, Calif., became the first city in the U.S. to ban gas hookups in new construction in 2019. And now at least 42 cities in California, including San Francisco and San Jose, have acted to limit gas in new buildings. Salt Lake City and Denver have also made plans to move toward electrification. And notably, Ithaca, N.Y., took the step to convert all of its buildings, not just new construction, to heat pumps and electric ranges over gas. Meanwhile, some 20 mostly Republican-led states have passed laws barring cities and counties from blocking gas hookups.

Read: More and more right-leaning Americans worry about climate change, but aren't ready to give up gas stoves

Proponents of keeping fossil fuels in a U.S. energy mix, even those who also want renewables to take a larger share, have said a too-quick jump in electric power use will strain a U.S. electricity grid that already reveals weaknesses. They stress that natural gas has been a low-cost alternative to dirtier coal and could play a role in the energy transition.

When asked about state efforts toward banning gas, the gas industry has said it believes home bans don't take costs fully into consideration. Instead, the industry has pushed for efforts in developing renewable natural gas.

-Rachel Koning Beals

 

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08-03-22 1621ET

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