Benzene with your bisque? New studies highlight the dangers of 'cooking with gas'
It looks so benign sitting there in your kitchen. Gleaming stainless steel, or maybe a classic matte black. Grates framing an emotionally appealing orange-blue flame. Your gas stove.
But new research suggests you may be getting more than you bargained for. That gas stove is likely polluting your home and contributing to climate change.
Three recent studies add to the evidence that gas is not the “clean” alternative the industry touts. It does not belong in our homes.
Start with the Harvard University study published last month in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. It found 21 toxic air pollutants in nearly all samples of gas collected from homes in the Boston area, including hexane, toluene, heptane, cyclohexane and benzene. The latter chemical can cause cancer, blood disorders and other health problems.
As Boston physician Dr. Regina LaRocque told radio station WBUR, the study “demonstrates that the gas many people cook with in their homes is a complex mixture of chemicals, many of which are dangerous to our health. It’s 2022, and there are now so many better ways to cook our food than by burning toxic chemicals inside our kitchens.”
Move on to the growing body of evidence that gas leaks in homes are fairly common. In a study published in January, Stanford University researchers reported that gas stoves bleed methane even when they’re turned off. The study concluded that American gas stoves could emit as much greenhouse gas annually as a half-million cars.
And then consider that gas is pumped hundreds or even thousands of miles across the country — and that the pipelines that carry the gas are prone to failure, a new study from Arizona PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) shows. A leak, explosion or other gas pipeline incident is reported in the United States every 40 hours. Over a decade, 122 people were killed and 603 were injured in pipeline explosions, including at least three times in Arizona.
And that’s just what was reported to the federal government. Total leakage from local gas distribution systems is estimated to be five times greater than what the EPA reports — or high enough to offset any greenhouse gas benefit of gas over coal.
To sum up: Gas stoves and water heaters are leaking toxic chemicals into your home, where you and your children breathe them. Methane, the second largest contributor to global warming, is escaping into the atmosphere so quickly it reached record levels last year, further threatening your health and your children’s future.
There are better alternatives. We need to move away from gas, and a good place to start is by electrifying homes. An electric stove is more than twice as efficient as a gas stove. Induction stoves are even more efficient, and because their surfaces remain cool, they save additional energy by reducing the workload on air conditioners.
While Arizona law unwisely prevents cities, towns or counties from banning the use of gas in new buildings, nothing prevents homeowners from making smart decisions for their family’s health and well-being.
Electrification coupled with greater solar and wind generation offers a cleaner, safer, and less expensive way to cool, heat, and light our homes and offices. It sure beats mixing benzene into your bisque.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.
Will Humble is a long-time public health enthusiast and is currently the executive director for the Arizona Public Health Association. His 40 years in public health include more than 2 decades at the Arizona Department of Health Services, where he served in various roles including as the director from 2009 to 2015.