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The gas stove culture war, explained

An egg is cooked on a gas stove in Berkeley, Calif., on March 13, 2018. Berkeley was the first city in the nation to ban gas hookups in most new homes and buildings, a policy adopted in 2019.ALEX WELSH/NYT

A common household appliance has sparked the nation’s latest culture war. Gas stoves were deemed dangerous in a slew of recent studies, fueling chatter about a potential ban and turning the appliances into a patriotic symbol.

Many have noted the appliances emit toxic compounds and heat the planet. Meanwhile, prominent conservatives tweeted things such as: “You will have to pry my gas stove from my cold dead hands” and “God. Guns. Gas stoves.”

If you’re wondering what to make of all this, we’re here to help. Here’s what to know about gas stoves, their safety issues, and the controversy flaring up around them.

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Are gas stoves a problem for the climate?

Yes. The “gas” that powers them is methane, which is 80 times more planet-warming than carbon dioxide in the short term. A 2022 study found that gas stoves pump out 2.6 million tons of methane annually — the equivalent of 500,000 cars used for a year.

Plus, before it reaches your stovetop, methane must be extracted from oil and gas wells, sent through some of the millions of miles of gas pipelines that snake across the country, processed to remove impurities, and then sent back through pipelines to reach homes. At each step in the process, gas can leak. Studies show the planet-warming impact of these leaks has been routinely undercounted.

Do gas stoves cause air pollution?

They do. In addition to methane, gas stoves emit toxic pollutants, including carbon monoxide, which deprives the brain of oxygen when breathed in, and formaldehyde, which can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, and might increase cancer risk.

Tiny pollution particles emitted from stove’s flames and from food that’s cooking can also cause breathing problems. And research shows gas used for stoves across Boston contains benzene — a carcinogen deemed unsafe at any level of exposure. Perhaps most concerningly, the appliances emit nitrogen dioxide, which has been shown to cause cardiovascular disease and respiratory illness even after short-term exposure to low levels, especially in children.

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One recent report found that gas stoves are responsible for nearly 13 percent of all childhood asthma cases nationwide, and more than 15 percent of childhood asthma cases in Massachusetts, suggesting the level of risk attributable to gas stoves is comparable to the risk associated with exposure to secondhand smoke. And other research shows gas stoves spew out levels of air pollution inside that would be illegal under outdoor regulations.

What if I leave my stove off?

If you never turn on your gas stove, you could cut down how much it harms indoor air quality and the climate. But you won’t do away with those impacts altogether.

A 2022 report concluded that three-quarters of all methane emissions from gas stoves occur when they’re turned off, which might suggest leaks in stove fittings and connections with gas service lines are ubiquitous.

Increasingly, researchers are finding that the appliances emit toxins such as nitrogen dioxide and benzene when they’re off, too.

Is a propane stove any better?

Kind of.

According to Mina Lee, strategic communications manager at the pro-electrification nonprofit RMI, leaks from switched-off propane stoves might be less of a concern for the climate than gas stove leaks. But that doesn’t mean they’re totally climate-friendly.

“Like gas, when propane is burned, it releases greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change — and the CO2 emissions are comparable to gas,” Lee said.

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Like gas stoves, propane stoves also come with some risk of explosion, and can take a toll on air quality. “Burning propane also produces other health-threatening air pollutants such as particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, nitrous oxide, and carbon monoxide,” said Lee.

According to the American Lung Association, propane-powered appliances emit one class of pollution — fine particulate matter — at an even higher rate than gas-powered ones.

Does ventilation help reduce harm from gas stoves?

Yes, it can.

“Proper ventilation keeps the concentrations of pollutants from building up in a home’s air,” said Rob Jackson, an earth scientist at Stanford University who has studied gas stove emissions.

But not all range hoods are created equal. A 2012 report found that while the best hoods capture 98 percent of stoves’ emissions, some vented as few as 15 percent of pollution. Even high-quality hoods must be positioned correctly to vent emissions outside; otherwise, they just circulate pollution around the kitchen.

What about hoods with filters? In principle, these could work, said Jackson, “but few hoods have filters and even fewer people clean them.”

If all else fails, consider opening windows while you cook. Still, ventilation merely moves pollution outdoors, so it doesn’t fix the stove’s planet-warming effects.

Is the government going to ban gas stoves?

Despite all the recent discourse about a gas stove ban, there’s no reason to think one is coming anytime soon.

What sparked all this discussion? It started with a December webinar about safe holiday cooking, hosted by the consumer advocacy nonprofit US Public Interest Research Group. There, a member of the Consumer Product Safety Commission — a government agency responsible for protecting people from dangerous household items — said a ban on gas stoves is a “real possibility.”

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This month, the commissioner doubled down on his statement. But the agency has since backtracked to clarify that no ban is currently under consideration.

That said, cities and counties all over the United States — including in Massachusettsare considering policies to limit or even phase out the use of gas stoves.

Isn’t gas best for cooking? What are the alternatives?

The gas industry sure wants you to think so. Over the last 100 years, it has waged a campaign to convince Americans that gas stoves are better than electric ones, including by adopting the phrase “cooking with gas” and releasing a cringeworthy rap, reporter Rebecca Leber has documented.

Legendary French chef Jacques Pépin told The Washington Post this month that there’s “something very emotional about seeing the flame,” and for some, it seems reliance on fossil fuels is closely tied to ideas of patriotism and masculinity.

But solid alternatives do exist. Your best bet to reduce emissions, experts say, is to switch to electric cooking, with either a standard electric stove that runs electricity through a wire to generate heat or an induction stove that heats using electromagnetism.

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All the rage these days, induction stoves are between 5 and 10 percent more efficient than conventional electric stoves and about 3 times more efficient than gas stoves, according to federal data. They can also boil water twice as fast as gas stoves, and can be safer to use because instead of heating the area under a pan like a traditional gas or electric burner, they heat pots and pans directly.

There are federal and state incentives available to households looking to purchase electric cooking appliances.

Did we just learn gas stoves are dangerous?

Public concern about gas stoves is on the rise. But scientists have long suspected that the appliances are dangerous.

As early as 1973, the Environmental Protection Agency had preliminary evidence that gas stove exposure posed respiratory risks. And back in 1985, the Consumer Product Safety Commission raised concerns about gas stoves, citing research showing they can emit nitrogen dioxide levels that exceeded outdoor regulations.



Dharna Noor can be reached at dharna.noor@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @dharnanoor.