Commentary: Electrification Is Not Just a Global Warming Issue; It’s Also a Public Health One

Photo by Mykola Makhlai on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

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?

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Ron Glick

    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.’”

    Simple solution if you are in a sensitive group get an electric stove.

    1. Richard_McCann

      Many, if not most, people in those sensitive groups live in rental housing where they have no control over that choice. That’s why we need to regulate what’s installed in houses.

  2. Don Shor


    Conclusions: Among adults with asthma, there was no apparent impact of gas stove use on pulmonary function or respiratory symptoms. These results should be reassuring to adults with asthma and their health care providers.


    Conclusions: In homes that used gas stoves, children whose parents reported using ventilation when operating their stove had higher lung function and lower odds of asthma, wheeze, and bronchitis compared to homes that never used ventilation or did not have ventilation available after adjusting for other risk factors.


    1. Richard_McCann

      The first study is from 2003. Subsequent analysis is showing a stronger conclusion about the health benefits of electric over gas stoves.

      The second study isn’t relevant–it’s only about the use of ventilation, and relying on consumers to take an additional action to reduce a hazard doesn’t remove the obligation of a company (such as PG&E) to make their product safer. It’s like auto makers saying “just drive more safely” rather than installing seat belts.

      See below for a more extensive bibliography on relevant recent studies.

  3. Richard_McCann

    An annotated list of references on this topic:
    Chart: Here’s why everyone is freaking out over gas stoves this week
    Gas stoves became the main character on Twitter this week. The current uproar was kicked off last week by the publication of new peer-reviewed research that attributed nearly 13 percent of all asthma cases in children in the U.S. to indoor air pollution caused by the burning of fossil gas in kitchens. In some states, the percentage is higher, as shown in the following chart. The study added to a robust body of past research documenting the negative health effects of gas stoves, which are used in roughly one-third of U.S. homes.

    Why are gas stove bans in the news? Here’s the sordid tale
    Will your gas range make you sick? Here’s what the science says

    U.S. agency examines secret pollution source in 40 million homes: Gas stoves.

    Misinformation on gas stoves is swirling the internet. Here’s what you need to know
    For existing homes, starting later this year, low- to moderate-income Californians will be able to receive up to $840 for upgrading to an electric stove through the Inflation Reduction Act. To help make the switch, households will also be able to access up to $4,000 in savings for a new electrical panel and up to $2,500 in savings for electrical rewiring.

    Are gas stoves really dangerous? What we know about the science

    Bay Area regulators look to ban new natural gas water heaters, furnaces
    Air-quality regulators for the region are considering adopting a pair of rules that would effectively ban the sale of new water heaters and furnaces that run on natural gas in less than a decade. The rules would apply to Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, along with the southern portions of Solano and Sonoma counties.
    Gas stoves debate explodes in Washington

    Gas stove fight is more elite culture-war nonsense
    Gas Stoves and Asthma
    (A survey of studies on the topic.)

    Population Attributable Fraction of Gas Stoves and Childhood Asthma in the United States
    Indoor gas stove use for cooking is associated with an increased risk of current asthma among children and is prevalent in 35% of households in the United States (US). The population-level implications of gas cooking are largely unrecognized. We quantified the population attributable fraction (PAF) for gas stove use and current childhood asthma in the US. Effect sizes previously reported by meta-analyses for current asthma (Odds Ratio = 1.34, 95% Confidence Interval (CI) = 1.12–1.57) were utilized in the PAF estimations. The proportion of children (<18 years old) exposed to gas stoves was obtained from the American Housing Survey for the US, and states with available data (n = 9). We found that 12.7% (95% CI = 6.3–19.3%) of current childhood asthma in the US is attributable to gas stove use. The proportion of childhood asthma that could be theoretically prevented if gas stove use was not present (e.g., state-specific PAFs) varied by state (Illinois = 21.1%; California = 20.1%; New York = 18.8%; Massachusetts = 15.4%; Pennsylvania = 13.5%). Our results quantify the US public health burden attributed to gas stove use and childhood asthma. Further research is needed to quantify the burden experienced at the county levels, as well as the impacts of implementing mitigation strategies through intervention studies.
    Methane and NO x Emissions from Natural Gas Stoves, Cooktops, and Ovens in Residential Homes
    Natural gas stoves in >40 million U.S. residences release methane (CH4)─a potent greenhouse gas─through post-meter leaks and incomplete combustion. We quantified methane released in 53 homes during all phases of stove use: steady-state-off (appliance not in use), steady-state-on (during combustion), and transitory periods of ignition and extinguishment. We estimated that natural gas stoves emit 0.8-1.3% of the gas they use as unburned methane and that total U.S. stove emissions are 28.1 [95% confidence interval: 18.5, 41.2] Gg CH4 year-1. More than three-quarters of methane emissions we measured originated during steady-state-off. Using a 20-year timeframe for methane, annual methane emissions from all gas stoves in U.S. homes have a climate impact comparable to the annual carbon dioxide emissions of 500 000 cars. In addition to methane emissions, co-emitted health-damaging air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) are released into home air and can trigger respiratory diseases. In 32 homes, we measured NOx (NO and NO2) emissions and found them to be linearly related to the amount of natural gas burned (r2 = 0.76; p ≪ 0.01). Emissions averaged 21.7 [20.5, 22.9] ng NOx J-1, comprised of 7.8 [7.1, 8.4] ng NO2 J-1 and 14.0 [12.8, 15.1] ng NO J-1. Our data suggest that families who don’t use their range hoods or who have poor ventilation can surpass the 1-h national standard of NO2 (100 ppb) within a few minutes of stove usage, particularly in smaller kitchens.

    Unburned Methane Emissions from Residential Natural Gas Appliances
    Methane, the primary component of natural gas (NG), is a potent greenhouse gas. NG is a common fuel for residential appliances because of low cost, high energy density, and relatively clean combustion. NG exhaust contains some unburned methane due to inevitable incomplete combustion. A field campaign measuring methane concentrations in exhaust from residential NG appliances was conducted in Boston and Indianapolis to determine their contribution to overall emissions. NG space heating, water heating, and cooking appliances were measured in 100 homes. Appliance exhaust typically exhibits a brief methane concentration spike during ignition and extinguishment and relatively low concentrations during steady-state operation. Exceptions to this pattern include ovens, suboptimal stove burners, and tankless water heaters, which either have a different operating pattern or nontrivial steady-state concentrations. Findings were combined with appliance usage and prevalence assumptions to estimate total emissions. Annually, ∼30 [97.5% CI: 19-160] Gg of methane emissions can be attributed to U.S. residential NG appliances, corresponding to ∼830 [530-4500] Gg carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e100). This accounts for ∼0.1% [0.08-0.7%] of U.S. anthropogenic methane emissions (which account for ∼10% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions) and corresponds to an emission factor of 0.38 g/kg of NG consumed (0.038% [0.024%-0.21%]).

    Quantifying Methane Emissions from Natural Gas Water Heaters
    Methane emissions from natural gas appliances remain the least characterized portion of the fossil-fuel supply chain. Here we examine water heaters from 64 northern California homes to (1) quantify methane emissions from natural gas leaks and incomplete combustion while off, turning on or off, and in steady-state operation from 35 homes; and (2) characterize daily usage patterns over ∼1-2 months per water heater to estimate activity factors from 46 homes. Individual tankless water heaters emitted 2390 [95% CI: 2250, 2540] g CH4 yr-1 on average, 0.93% [0.87%, 0.99%] of their natural gas consumed, primarily from on/off pulses. Storage water heaters emitted 1400 [1240, 1560] g CH4 yr-1 on average, 0.39% [0.34%, 0.43%] of their natural gas consumption. Despite higher methane emissions, tankless water heaters generate 29% less CO2e20 than storage water heaters because they use less energy to heat a unit of water. Scaling our measured emissions by the number of storage and tankless water heaters in the United States (56.8 and 1.2 million, respectively), water heaters overall emitted an estimated 82.3 [73.2, 91.5] Gg CH4 yr-1, 0.40% [0.35%, 0.44%] of all natural gas consumed by these appliances, comparable in percentage to the EPA’s estimate of methane emissions from upstream natural gas production.

    Similar articlesNatural Gas Samples Taken from Boston-Area Homes Contained Numerous Toxic Compounds, a New Harvard Study Finds
    Almost all of them contained low levels of benzene, a carcinogen. Additional studies are underway to see if homeowners are exposed to this and other toxins when cooking with gas.

    Beyond-the-Meter: Unaccounted Sources of Methane Emissions in the Natural Gas Distribution Sector
    The United States Environmental Protection Agency maintains an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Methane (CH4), a potent gas with a global warming potential 86-125× that of carbon dioxide (CO2) over a twenty-year period, is the main component of natural gas (NG). As NG becomes an increasingly larger percentage of the energy resources used in the United States, it is ever more important to evaluate the CH4 emissions inventory. However, the inventory also does not account for all possible sources of CH4 leaks, contributing to uncertainty in the national CH4 inventory. Discrepancies between top-down and bottom-up inventories of CH4 emissions imply that there are significant unaccounted-for sources of CH4 leaks, especially over cities. Diffuse CH4 plumes above cities that are not attributable to distribution pipelines or other NG infrastructure suggest many small beyond-the-meter leaks together contribute to large emissions. Here, we evaluate the distribution sector of the CH4 emissions inventory and make suggestions to improve the inventory by analyzing end-user emissions. Preliminary research into beyond-the-meter emissions suggests that while individually small, the appliances and buildings that make up the residential sector could contribute significantly to national scale emissions. Furnaces are the most leak-prone of appliances, contributing to 0.14% of total CH4 emissions from the NG sector in the United States. Combining measurements from whole house emissions and steady-state operation of appliances, we estimate that residential homes and appliances could release 9.1 Gg CH4 yearly in the United States, totaling over 2% of the CH4 released from the NG sector. While factors such as appliance age and usage, climate, and residential setting could influence the emissions profile of individual appliances, these preliminary estimates justify further exploration of beyond-the-meter emissions.
    Meta-analysis of the effects of indoor nitrogen dioxide and gas cooking on asthma and wheeze in children
    Background Since the meta-analysis on the association between indoor nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and childhood respiratory illness in 1992, many new studies have been published. The quantitative effects of indoor NO2 on respiratory illness have not been estimated in a formal meta-analysis since then. We aimed to quantify the association of indoor NO2 and its main source (gas cooking) with childhood asthma and wheeze.
    Methods We extracted the association between indoor NO2 (and gas cooking) and childhood asthma and wheeze from population studies published up to 31 March 2013. Data were analysed by inverse-variance-weighted, random-effects meta-analysis. Sensitivity analyses were conducted for different strata. Publication bias and heterogeneity between studies were investigated.
    Results A total of 41 studies met the inclusion criteria. The summary odds ratio from random effects meta-analysis for asthma and gas cooking exposure was 1.32 [95% confidential interval (CI) 1.18–1.48], and for a 15-ppb increase in NO2 it was 1.09 (95% CI 0.91–1.31). Indoor NO2 was associated with current wheeze (random effects OR 1.15; 95% CI 1.06–1.25). The estimates did not vary much with age or between regions. There was no evidence of publication bias.
    Conclusions This meta-analysis provides quantitative evidence that, in children, gas cooking increases the risk of asthma and indoor NO2 increases the risk of current wheeze.
    Study: Cancer-causing gas leaking from CA stoves, pipes

    Your gas stove might be polluting your home’s air even when it’s turned off, a new study finds

    Multnomah County Health Department report recommends transitioning away from gas stoves over health concerns (Portland, OR)

    The next frontier for climate action is the great indoors

    There are over 200 million of these “mini fossil fuel plants” throughout the country — all heaters, clothes dryers, and stoves that run on oil and gas, according to research from Rewiring America. Replacing all of these isn’t an easy thing to imagine or do. But a growing number of advocates argue it’s past time to try.
    ‘I’d have to gut my house’: Plan to phase out natural gas devices sparks fierce debate
    (SF Chronicle on BAAQMD proposed gas appliance regulations)
     Chart: Americans bought more heat pumps than gas furnaces last year
    Even before Inflation Reduction Act incentives kicked in, Americans bought more heat pumps than ever before last year — well over 4 million.
     5 barriers to induction stove adoption — and one clever high-tech fix
    The idea: make induction stoves with batteries. Adding energy storage to induction stoves will let them more easily slip into existing infrastructure; the stoves can load up on power slowly over time, then tap into their battery power to deliver the surges needed for high-intensity cooking….This will mean induction stoves can plug into normal outlets without expensive upgrades to home wiring, said Kennedy, whose Berkeley-based startup Channing Street Copper is developing one such product.
     More on the “science wars” of how to portray gas:

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