By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – When the city proposed in its Climate Action & Adaptation Plan (CAAP) to have homeowners transition to electrification on the point of sale, many in the community pushed back at the potential cost, and the city staff and city council backed down and moved to a voluntary program.
While the transition to electric-only homes is considered important for reducing carbon emissions through the transition away from fossil fuels towards more renewable and less carbon emitting forms of energy, there are other benefits of this as well.
Next City recently covered a story about a pilot program in the Bronx, which encouraged Bronx residents to get rid of their gas stoves.
The result for public housing residents who traded their gas stoves for electric induction was that they “saw improved air quality compared with their neighbors.”
It was a limited pilot program to be sure—about 20 apartments at a complex in the Bronx, but it demonstrated fairly clearly just how dramatic an impact on air quality just the single change had.
The study found “households with induction stoves showed a 35% decrease in nitrogen dioxide and a nearly 43% difference in carbon monoxide.”
This is a critical point that has missed in the debate over electrification.
Next City pointed out, “Traditional indoor gas stoves burn methane, a planet-warming greenhouse gas more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. But beyond the larger climate concerns, gas stoves can pose immediate health risks to people in a household.”
For example, some research has shown that “the pollutants released when turning on a gas stove are associated with causing or worsening respiratory illnesses.”
A study released in December found that “18.8% of childhood asthma cases in New York might be prevented if households didn’t have gas stoves.”
A Bloomberg News report following that study “indicated that the head of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission was considering banning gas stoves across the country — but the agency later said that they were only looking into slight regulation.”
In Davis, the debate over electrification focused heavily on climate change and of course transition costs, which are prohibitive.
The possibility that gas appliances are contributing to health impacts has thus far drawn less discussion, but the connection between gas appliances and childhood asthma should be a wakeup call to look further into this issue.
One study, the Next City reported, looked at pollutants while preparing a standardized meal.
The article notes, “The researchers found that, while cooking using a gas stove, nitrogen dioxide concentrations were nearly three times as much when using an induction stove.”
In fact, “measurements of nitrogen dioxide concentrations in the kitchens with gas stoves reached levels above what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups.’”
Davis over a decade ago was ahead of the curve in banning or limiting wood burning stoves that release pollutants into the adjacent neighborhood, but these studies show that people may be impacting their health in their own kitchen without even knowing it.
The difference between gas and induction turned out to be stark.
During the cooking tests, “an induction cooking household’s pollution didn’t change at all,” said Michael Johnson, technical director at the Berkeley Air Monitoring Group.
He added, “It’s another data point we’re seeing that reinforces this narrative that cooking with gas increases levels of NO2 [nitrogen dioxide] and other pollutants in your home to levels that are often unhealthy.”
And of course it is not limited to gas stoves.
Next City reported “other sources of pollutants like nearby gas boilers and cars also affected the levels of pollutants in the apartments studied, researchers said.”
In short, as Misbath Daouda, a PhD candidate at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health who worked on the study, “noted the health benefits of overhauling an entire building’s worth of fossil fuel-powered appliances.
“The transition would need to not only focus on gas stoves as a single appliance, but look at other systems that need to be replaced or improved in those homes to improve air quality and also meet carbon emission reduction goals—and that would include heating systems,” Daouda said.
Make no mistake, the cost issue that was cited by the public is very real. But one of the big problems with long-term environmental impacts, cost is a lot more difficult to assess than one might think.
We know the fixed cost of conversion to electric appliances. Hopefully the state and federal governments can look into ways to subsidize those immediate costs.
But how do you measure the costs of the impact of climate change plus the longer term health effects of being exposed to dangerous gas emissions in the home? How do you measure the impact of an increased risk of childhood asthma and its impact on the quality of and longevity of life?