When it comes to human health, efforts to improve air quality and reduce pollution are important, as pollutants are linked to many illnesses, including heart disease, respiratory illnesses, and even cancer. Understanding this, one potential source of pollutants involves natural gas, with research showing that homes with natural gas stoves posing higher risks. And with these findings, many states are calling for all-out bans on gas stoves moving forward. But is this the right solution… or simply another example of emotional extremism and governmental overreach?
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To put things in perspective, roughly 40% of all homes in the U.S. have natural gas stoves. That’s about 40 million residencies in the country. To place bans on gas stoves would thus introduce serious costs on consumers. At the same time, creating bans on gas stoves for new construction seems more reasonable. But is there adequate evidence of natural gas health concerns to support such a government mandate. Both issues are highly relevant ones that deserve a much closer look before legislation is passed. Perhaps instead of all-out bans on gas stoves, a more logical (and patient) approach might just be the thing needed.
“Ventilation is really where this discussion should be, rather than banning one particular type of technology. Banning one type of a cooking appliance is not going to address the concerns about overall indoor air quality.” – Jill Notini, Vice President, Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers
The Research Prompting the Bans
While several studies suggest there’s reason to suspect natural gas health concerns, a recent study explored its relationship with asthma. Specifically, the researchers estimated the chance that natural gas stoves might be the cause of childhood asthma attacks. In their research, they examined prior studies to determine the actual risk natural gas stoves might have on asthmatic attacks. Then, they applied these findings to U.S. census data based on the presence or absence of natural gas stoves. In their final assessment, they concluded about 12.7% of all childhood asthma events were related to natural gas stoves.
Given that children are being affected at such a high percentage, naturally the research triggered some alarm. Legislators and environmental advocates quickly called for bans on gas stoves citing the study’s findings. But what they failed to do is explore how accurate the study’s interpretations were. Though large population numbers were used, many assumptions were made in linking natural gas stove in a household to an asthma event. And other confounding variables that might have caused asthma as well were not explored. As such, the percentage of natural gas health concerns related to asthma could be exaggerated. This would mean the benefit of gas stove bans might be quite small.
“The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and EPA do not present gas ranges as a significant contributor to adverse air quality or health hazard in their technical or public information literature, guidance, or requirements.” – Karen Harbert, President, American Gas Association
Initial State and Federal Reactions
The initial reaction at the federal level to the recent research came from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The agency has stated that they are considering a variety of options in response to the findings. At the lower end of the spectrum are warning labels on natural gas stoves. Other reasonable options include a requirement for a range hood for ventilation or professional standards for such products. But at the other extreme are complete bans on gas stoves including their manufacturing and their importation. Such bans on gas stoves could be imposed within a year or so, and they’d most likely involve new construction.
While federal agency commissioners are weighing things over, state-level efforts have already shown signs of government overreach. Natural gas health concerns have led some state agencies and councils to institute new laws regulating stoves. In New York, the city council voted in 2021 to ban all new natural gas stive hookups in buildings less than seven stories. In California, the Air Resource Board unanimously voted to ban all natural gas furnaces and water heaters by 2030. Both state groups cite natural gas health concerns related to nitrous dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane. But despite these concerns, there has yet to be proof that bans on gas stoves will be of any benefit.
“To dictate [bans on gas stoves] to consumers and businesses—I wasn’t comfortable with that. I thought we ought to put a pause button on and let the market do this.” – Steve Handy, Utah State Representative
Incentives Good, Mandates Bad
When it comes to natural gas health concerns, there very well may be problems. Science does support a link between natural gas and some illnesses like asthma. But in most instances, proper ventilation and maintenance eliminates risks to a significant degree. Thus, to pursue bans on gas stoves by state and federal agencies seems excessive. Certainly, standards might be considered for proper ventilation and use. But global bans on gas stoves represents a significant overreach by legislators and policymakers.
In all likelihood, educational campaigns that inform consumers and businesses will empower them to make better health decisions. Also, incentives for both businesses and consumers to choose other options makes sense as well. In fact, the Inflation Reduction Act awards customers $840 in rebates if they choose to purchase an electric stove. Based on the lack of evidence that clearly links gas stoves with natural gas health concerns, this is a more logical approach. With the right information, consumers and manufacturers will solve any issues including those linked to natural gas health concerns. Bans, mandates and restrictions in such instances are not needed and once again showcase a classic case of government overreach.