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What you need to know about gas stoves and health risks

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It's the latest tempest in a teapot on the internet and in Washington politics - what some have dubbed StoveGate. That is the idea of banning natural gas cooking stoves. The controversy started with a remark from Richard Trumka, a commissioner on the Consumer Product Safety Commission, last month before a consumer advocacy group. He cited health studies about gas stoves.

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RICHARD TRUMKA: That's why I think we need to be talking about regulating gas stoves, whether that's drastically improving emissions or banning gas stoves entirely.

KELLY: Another remark from Trumka this week has gotten some folks, including some members of Congress, all riled up on Twitter. Well, we are going to turn down the heat a little and lay out some facts. Jeff Brady from NPR's Climate Desk is here to help. Hey there.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: For the record, is anyone in the federal government actually planning to ban gas stoves?

BRADY: No. The point that Commissioner Trumka was making there is that the Consumer Product Safety Commission should keep all its options open because of the potential health consequences of these gas ranges. What the commission is doing is opening a request for information starting in March. The commission is researching gas emissions and exploring new ways to address health risks associated with stoves. Where that leads is a long way off, and Trumka is just saying that they should keep the possibility of banning gas stove available as an option.

KELLY: As someone who cooks on my own gas stove in my kitchen pretty regularly, what are the health risks?

BRADY: You know, most of us don't really think about this because we've been using gas stoves for so long. But you are burning fossil fuel. And in most cases, the pollution that comes off that blue flame goes directly into your kitchen. A lot of kitchens don't have hoods over the stove that vent outside. And even in kitchens with a good range hood, people often don't use them because they're noisy.

KELLY: Super noisy. Yeah.

BRADY: Yeah. And there have been studies on how these stoves affect indoor air quality and health. The gas utility industry, government agencies and academics have been researching this for decades. There's a growing body of evidence that children in vulnerable populations, people with asthma, for example, can experience short and maybe even long-term health effects. But it takes a lot of in-depth research for scientists to make an absolute connection between any pollutant and a disease. Now, the gas utility industry has latched on to that uncertainty to cast doubt over the research that does exist. So that's why it can be confusing to sort out what's fact and what's misinformation here.

KELLY: You're talking about burning fossil fuels. And I'm thinking, beyond health, are there questions here about the environment, about climate change?

BRADY: There are. Now, the greenhouse gas emissions from cooking aren't that much, but the gas stove is seen as a gateway appliance. Real estate agents will tell you they're a selling point. The gas utility industry has long encouraged that with its cooking-with-gas campaign. And a home with a gas range is more likely to also have a gas furnace, a water heater and a dryer. And now you're talking about more emissions. And that's why there is an effort to get homes converted to electric appliances. Those can reduce emissions if the power is produced with low carbon sources like solar, wind or nuclear. Now, outside homes, that gas stove is connected to an entire network of pipelines, compressor stations, drilling rigs. And that system leaks methane at various points from beginning to end. And methane is a very potent greenhouse gas. There are efforts underway now by governments and industry to get those leaks under control.

KELLY: And briefly, are we all talking about this now because of this one commissioner or are there other factors at play?

BRADY: There are a few other factors. There are efforts by state and local governments to limit gas use in new buildings, all in an effort to help meet their climate goals. And in that big climate-focused budget bill called the Inflation Reduction Act, there are incentives to encourage people to switch to electric.

KELLY: Jeff Brady from our Climate Desk. Thanks, Jeff.

BRADY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.