The kitchen is, of course, one of the most important rooms of any house. But there’s a particular appliance commonly found there which could pose a risk to our health. So in May 2020 the Rocky Mountain Institute and a number of organizations published a report which outlined not only what that threat is, but also how it could be mitigated.
Prior to the release of that study, though, the kitchen was already considered to be one of the more hazardous spots in our homes. The room contains a number of potentially dangerous utensils that can cause harm if we’re not too careful.
According to Burn Injury Online, over 100,000 individuals across America scald themselves in the kitchen and bathroom every year. The organization added that in the same time frame, more than 30 people die after sustaining wounds from hot water, too.
Blunt knives have also been known to inflict injuries in the kitchen when they slide away from the cutting surface. And on top of that, the unseen germs found there can cause great harm, too. But as we highlighted earlier, there is another item common to many American kitchens which poses its own threat.
We’re referring here to the gas stove, an appliance which is in around 40 percent of U.S. homes, according to the Daily Mail. And the risks that these kitchen items pose to Americans – particularly in certain parts of the country – is higher than you might imagine.
But before we dive into the dangers surrounding gas stoves, let’s take a closer look into the history of the long-time kitchen staple. The appliance appeared first in England in the 19th century, and it has remained popular ever since. But how did people cook their food before that?
Well, people utilized hearths when preparing their meals, as the flames from the aforementioned area were perfect for cooking. That method was still in effect at the back-end of the 18th century, until an engineer came up with an incredible plan.
That individual was an American man called Benjamin Thompson, and he visualized a tool that could control the hearth’s warmth while cooking. In the end, that led to the creation of a flat-top surface which housed various circular rings. Each of them were designed to open up – freeing the flames under the kitchen utensil.
These early stoves were eventually made from cast-iron materials as time went on. Unlike some other metals, it could handle sudden temperature changes. It also enhanced the look of the kitchen thanks to its ornamental appearance.
Companies in the United States then began to produce these metal stoves in the 1840s. And they weren’t just used for cooking; many people chose to use them as heaters, while others looked to dry their clothes on the warm surface.
But as America started to embrace the cast-iron stoves, entrepreneurs in England had already been dabbling with an alternative. A designer called James Sharp had patented the first commercial gas stove back in 1826, and within ten years the first factory to produce them had been established.
By the 1880s gas stoves were appearing in larger towns and cities across Britain. This was helped by an extensive national pipeline network which allowed for the relatively cheap use of gas at home. And due to the appliance’s growing popularity, other nations then started to buy up their own shipments to sell.
However, the U.S. was reluctant to follow suit at that time for a couple of notable reasons. The first related to money, as gas was a costly fuel back then. Others, meanwhile, believed that the stove would give their food a strange after-taste.
The turning point in the United States finally came at the beginning of the 20th century. By that stage, electricity was starting to become more prevalent in homes – particularly for lighting. Unsurprisingly, that had a negative effect on the gas industry, which had previously powered the latter.
The gas industry saw the stove as its next big moneymaker going forward, and soon American households began utilizing the appliance. But their popularity in the U.S. came about for more practical reasons, too.
The older cast-iron stoves had formed part of a much bigger unit – utilizing coal and wood. But gas stoves didn’t need those resources to function, so they could be manufactured to a smaller size. In turn, that was good news for people who lived in confined spaces, as they could add the cooking appliance to their kitchens more easily.
By the second decade of the 20th century, designers of gas stove cookers had started developing the more familiar “cabinet range,” which was a popular choice for consumers. As the name suggests, it resembled a piece of furniture, with individual draws housing an oven to help out bigger family units.
As for the stoves, their gas output was kept under control by several wheel valves or cocks on the front of the cooker. That way, people could use as much of the fuel as they needed. Some ten years after the cabinet range came to the fore, newer designs then appeared which included up to five rings.
The more modern designs then went through a number of other changes over the next few decades. And gas stoves are still very prominent across the United States even today. As we mentioned earlier, around 40 percent of households still use them.
But some people may not realize that these kitchen staples actually pose a health threat. That warning came to light following a study conducted by the Rocky Mountain Institute, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Mothers Out Front and the Sierra Club. For reference, these organizations had sought to explore the risks associated with using gas stoves at home.
We’ll discover quite what these organizations found out a little later, but first let’s learn more about what they do. The Rocky Mountain Institute was established in 1982 and it works with companies and institutions to promote the adoption of renewable energy sources.
Joining the Rocky Mountain Institute on the study was Mothers out Front – another outfit which advocates for cleaner energy sources. Alongside these groups was Physicians for Social Responsibility, a group which informs the public and policymakers about the risk posed by nuclear proliferation and climate change. The final organization on the project was the Sierra Club – an environmental charity with nearly four million members.
In its study of gas stoves, the group looked back on a deluge of information that spanned 20 years in order learn more about this kitchen staple. And to explain more, the Rocky Mountain Institute offered some additional insight on its website.
The Rocky Mountain Institute post revealed, “In this report, we synthesize the last two decades of research [on gas stoves]. And [we] offer recommendations for policymakers, researchers, health care professionals and the public to work swiftly to mitigate the health risks associated with gas stoves.” But what did the study find?
According to the in-depth report, “… Gas stoves may be exposing tens of millions of people to levels of air pollution in their homes that would be illegal outdoors under national air quality standards.” It’s a shocking claim, but previous studies have revealed that the gasses emitted from a stove do indeed give off some harmful fumes.
To give you a few examples, gas stoves are said to release carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, formaldehyde and nitrogen dioxide. And if you’re exposed to any of these elements for a prolonged period of time, your safety could be at risk. By itself, carbon monoxide is capable of sparking headaches, tiredness and even death if an individual is exposed to it for a long period.
Of course, you won’t start to experience the aforementioned problems until you’ve inhaled a certain amount of carbon monoxide. That measurement stands at 70 parts per million (PPM) on average. Yet for those who suffer with pre-existing heart issues, a lower number than that could still make them ill.
The study noted that youngsters could be in danger, too. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has previously argued that long-term exposure to nitrogen gasses could cause asthma in kids. To back that up, the four organizations behind the 2020 paper said that children had a 42 percent higher probability of developing such symptoms.
Furthermore, it’s believed that nitrogen dioxide can cause a number of other serious ailments. The gas is linked to diabetes, cancer and heart issues for those who expose themselves to too much. So, should you be worried, here are the measurements to take on board.
Outside the house, the EPA says that the average consumption of nitrogen dioxide stands at 100 parts per billion (PPB) each hour in America as a whole. The measurement is slightly different in California, though, coming in at 180 PPB. As for Canada, the figure there is registered at 60 – much lower than the other two.
But if you were to use the gas stove itself, the figures do go down. For example, cooking a slice of bacon in the frying pan gives off 104 PPD, while boiling a saucepan of water registers a reading of 184. Regardless of the dip, however, all of those nitrogen dioxide levels are still a concern.
So after taking everything into account, the Rocky Mountain Institute and the other three organizations brought up an interesting idea. The quartet discussed how to stop the nitrogen dioxide from spreading in the kitchen. And along the way, they shed some light on an older paper.
According to that other report, electric stoves cut down the nitrogen dioxide emissions by 51 percent when compared to gas stoves. That’s a huge difference, and it led the older researchers to an obvious conclusion. The Rocky Mountain Institute and its colleagues went on to share those words in the newer study.
The 2020 paper read, “The [old] study concluded that replacing gas stoves with electric stoves produces the greatest decrease in indoor [nitrogen dioxide] concentrations. The results show that the simple intervention of replacing a stove may not only dramatically reduce indoor [nitrogen dioxide] levels in the kitchen, but also throughout the home.”
However, while the Rocky Mountain Institute was putting the paper together with its three partners, another person had decided to get involved. His name was David Lu, and he helps run a business called Clarity which monitors outdoor pollution. The individual had wanted to see the results firsthand, so he conducted an experiment at his house.
Once Lu was done, he sat down with the Vox website to talk about what he’d found. The figures that he came across were apparently very similar to those we’ve already discussed. The CEO of Clarity also admitted that he’d try to lessen the effects going forward.
“Out of curiosity, I set up some [pollution monitors] in my own home,” Lu told the website in May 2020. “The data was crazy. During the hour I was cooking and baking, [the nitrogen dioxide levels reached] close to 200 PPB. I’m definitely trying to open the window now, and the doors if possible, when I’m cooking.”
So, as the study mentioned, the best way to mitigate your risk is to purchase an electric stove instead. But what if you can’t afford one? Thankfully, there are other options. The report suggests installing a carbon monoxide detector in the kitchen to check levels there. Furthermore, it recommends using a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, which will help clear out the gases in the kitchen. And as Lu mentioned, opening doors and windows when cooking wouldn’t hurt either.