On Cooking With Gas
Research meta-analysis says gas stoves give off unsafe N02 levels and increase risk of childhood asthma by 34% and are responsible for 12.7% of childhood asthma.
None of this is new. The way safety panic works is that you focus on a particular risk this week and an attempt is made to make everyone’s life worse in its name.
Emily Oster takes a deeper dive on the original studies. She is not impressed.
For the most part, the other papers in the meta-analysis have similar features. They tend to show positive correlations between asthma and gas stove exposure, but the effects are a bit noisy and they do not necessarily paint a consistent picture. A 2013 paper finds, for example, a link with asthma for girls but not boys, and no links with other respiratory issues.
What to take from this? We know that gas stoves emit nitrogen oxides and that, in general, those are not good. We know that air pollution, in general, is bad for respiratory symptoms, including asthma. So it seems very plausible that there is some link here. However: the magnitude is likely small. In most of the estimates, it’s small. And, beyond that, we do not see the kind of smoking gun in any of these data that would suggest a really consistent link.
Another way to put this is that there are clearly many, many factors other than gas stoves that explain asthma. Some of these may also be environmental. But I’m skeptical that gas stoves play a huge role, as would be suggested by the new paper.
ADDED 1/23/23: After this post was written, Sarah Constantin took a detailed dive into the health risks of gas stoves. Here were her conclusions:
Gas stove usage is not consistently associated with childhood asthma or respiratory disease generally; there are numerous negative results and most of the positive results are confounded.
Even those studies that found an effect had fairly small effect sizes (almost all ORs under 2.0).
High nitrogen dioxide is associated with respiratory disease. Using a gas stove without ventilation, or spending a lot of time cooking on a gas stove, might be a risk factor for respiratory disease even if gas stoves overall are not.
Induction stoves may even have health downsides relative to gas stoves— they’re associated with higher rates of birth defects in China.
Now, back to the original post.
The link on the state-wide level runs the other way.
I am confident gas stoves do not prevent asthma because physics. One still notes that if this graph had been reversed it would be part of the case to ban such stoves.
One explanation for the reversed correlation is that gas stoves cost more and positively correlate with income. This also suggests they are a superior good. Rich people choose to cook with gas. The spike at the top of the income distribution supports this. As does 80% of restaurants, who care the most about quality, choosing gas stoves, versus 40% of households. Alternatively, some of this could be because richer people live in older and more expensive buildings that happen to have gas stoves. If new construction is restricted in the most expensive areas, and old construction has more gas stoves, that could create this effect as well.
Emily’s practical advice seems solid, if one is concerned:
Can I do anything now?
Assuming you are not replacing your gas stove now, is there anything you can do?
First, run the hood fan on your stove when you use it. It’s not clear how much this matters, but on the margin it should help.
Second, use a HEPA filter with an activated carbon filter. At least one study showed that installing such a filter in the kitchen lowered nitrogen dioxide levels by half as much as replacing the stove. This is a lot more effective in the data than the hood fan.
As for me, even if the full effect in the meta-analysis was real? I. Do. Not. Care.
There is a reason the expression ‘now you’re cooking with gas’ stuck. Electric stoves are not good. Gas stoves are a Nice Thing.
You can attempt to pry my nice thing from my future no longer functioning asthmatic hands. I am so done with taking the Nice Things in life and ruining them in the name of marginally better health. They also increase resiliency in a blackout.
We had an electric stove in Warwick. We adapted, but it was clearly worse. Neither me nor my wife ever fully adjusted, and she grew up with an electric stove. I have been in otherwise quite nice Airbnbs with electric stoves so slow and terrible that they made me not want to cook breakfast. I have yet to see a good one.
There are those who disagree with my cooking preference for gas stoves. They say that no, you are thinking of the crappy old style electric stoves. That the new electric stoves are super awesome. To which I say, I am happy to disagree, and they can have an electric stove if they so desire.
Gaslighting and its Discontents
There are already many places where it is not permitted to put gas stoves in new construction. They become ancient artifacts or rare treasures, like fully flushing toilets and full pressure shower heads.
Some of the usual suspects are of course doing the obvious, and calling on us to ban such stoves more broadly. This is an ongoing effort. Here’s Mother Jones last year calling for a ban and saying gas stoves are a fossil fuel industry conspiracy that must be stopped. Here’s Vox from 2020 talking about how horribly dangerous they are and Something Must Be Done, with the poor being ‘most at risk’ from gas stoves despite being much less likely to have one.
Here is Matt Bruenig saying that there renters living in 15 million apartments with gas stoves, ‘something they have no control over.’ And that there is a good case that landlords that are violating habitability standards. At the same time, he links to his own article that is entitled ‘The Gas Stove Problem,’ saying with a straight face ‘the agency was researching the issue and looking for ways to address the problem, but that they are not looking to ban gas stoves.’ Matt’s been trying to get gas stoves banned for years.
I can see an argument that someone ‘has no choice’ if the landlord replaced an electric stove with a gas stove. When choosing where to rent, one absolutely has a choice. We made it a point to ensure our apartment had a gas stove, both when renting and when buying.
Part of the motivation here is climate-related and the general hatred of nice things, part is the usual suspects hate fossil fuels and gas companies, part is safety obsession.
On the contrary. The gaslighting has already begun.
‘We will be asking the public… potential ‘solutions’ for reducing any associated risks.’
That is exactly what you say when you are going to look to ban something.
‘Has no proceeding to do so.’
No, not yet. That comes later. Notice the lack of any future tense.
Also, as this Bon Appetit post on the subject informs us, the line before that was:
“Any option is on the table,” [US Consumer Product Safety Commissioner] Trumka said. “Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”
And these are not the phrasings you use when you’re not trying to get a ban passed:
A federal agency says a ban on gas stoves is on the table amid rising concern about harmful indoor air pollutants emitted by the appliances.
Which was brought to my attention by, because why not, Senator Joe Manchin.
The replies, of course, include a number of people supporting banning gas stoves.
I would not underestimate the political impact of such efforts. It sticks with you. It is striking how many people on Twitter are saying ‘gas stoves for life.’ Scott Sumner idly wonders (in what is otherwise a post about life expectancy) if those considering a ban ‘are working for Trump’ and speculates a ban would shift Asian Americans to the GOP.
The ‘Inflation Reduction Act’ included a subsidy for switching to electric stoves. That is indeed the correct way to price in an externality or express a preference. It also indicates that yes, there is an ongoing effort to get rid of gas stoves, that may escalate.
I do have to admit, this was a pretty sick burn.
That’s how this kind of logic works, you need a good excuse not to ban things.
Even among my Twitter followers, quite a few want to ban gas stoves, with a strong partisan effect.
None of that means any regulatory action will end up happening. My guess is it won’t any time soon given the degree of backlash. Early trading on my prediction market says it is an underdog to happen by 2026, down to 20% as I type this which makes my estimate of true value somewhat lower. It would be a heavy lift on the federal level. Often such fires go out in time. If we are lucky we will never hear anything about this again. But so far no one is willing to come out and say this is anything like a Can’t Happen.
It is often difficult to tell the difference between ‘this was a crazy person who warned and fought against a phantom’ and ‘this was a hero who stopped a disaster and now you are calling them crazy and cutting their budget because it worked.’ We will never know how much of this was Column A versus Column B.
11% of independents are ‘not sure’ what kind of stove they have. Or of anything, really.
Households that use electric ranges have a higher risk of cooking fires and associated losses than those using gas ranges. Although 60 percent of households cook with electricity four out of five (80 percent) ranges or cooktops involved in reported cooking fires were powered by electricity. Population-based risks are shown below,
• The rate of reported fires per million households was 2.6 times higher with electric ranges.
• The civilian fire death rate per million households was 3.4 times higher with electric ranges.
• The civilian fire injury rate per million households was 4.8 times higher with electric ranges than in households using gas ranges.
• The average fire dollar loss per household was 3.8 times higher in households with electric ranges.
(There is also a climate case to made in either direction, depending on where the marginal electricity is coming from, since often, as in Europe, the answer is ‘coal’ which is way worse than a gas stove.)
Those are very large percent increases, although the base rate is not so high. I do not see anyone talking about base rates here, or in most other ‘safety’ or ‘think of the children’ debates. I am guessing the actual level of harm has little to do with who decides to frame this in which fashion.
The gas stoves unsafe claim looks overblown.
Gas stoves remain great.
Yes the usual suspects are collectively (aka ‘they’) are looking to ban gas stoves.
No they probably won’t be able to ban gas stoves soon, at least federally.
Additional note: Eater writes ‘No, Gas Ovens Aren’t Being Banned in New York Restaurants’ despite the governor saying ‘no exceptions’ because there is, for now, going to be an exception for restaurants. Also it seems you can get an exception if enough of your new housing is… affordable? So, principled stuff right there.