Home on the Range: Gas Cooktops Under Attack

Researchers, environmentalists and legislators are turning up the heat on gas ranges.

By Alan Wolf, YSN

Ranges using fossil fuel could go the way of the dinosaur under recent proposals by environmentalists and politicians.

Although they’re found in little more than a third of U.S. households, gas ranges are coveted by cooks for their high heat, searing ability and precise temperature control. But according to a report by NPR.org, those features may come at too high a cost to the climate and public health, which could place gas appliances on the endangered species list.

Among those cited was Drexel University environmental epidemiologist Josiah Kephart, who pointed to research showing that stovetop flames emit formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide — a toxic gas that can cause breathing problems in people with asthma and obstructive pulmonary disease. What’s more, a 1992 study showed that children who live in a home with gas cooktops have 20 percent greater risk of developing respiratory illness.

In response, gas utilities and their trade group, the American Gas Association (AGA), championed the removal of always-on pilot lights, supported technologies to reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions, and promote the use of outdoor-venting exhaust fans to improve indoor air quality.

But environmental groups take issue with the very use and extraction of natural gas. Comprised of methane, the potent greenhouse gas tends to leak throughout the drilling, fracking, processing and transportation chain, and its use in commercial and residential appliances accounts for roughly 13 percent of heat-trapping emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

While the EPA and other federal agencies like the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are monitoring the issue, none have moved to regulate potentially harmful emissions, NPR reported. However, President Biden’s clean energy climate plan calls for incentives to retrofit homes and businesses with electric appliances and furnaces in order to cut the carbon footprint of buildings in half by 2035. And his goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 would, according to studies by Princeton University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the National Academy of Sciences, require electrifying buildings, making appliances more efficient, and fueling them with mostly emission-free sources like renewable energy, NPR said.

More immediately, the California Energy Commission (CEC) has approved standards that would require extra ventilation and stronger range hoods for gas stoves beginning in 2023, while a growing chorus of critics is calling for widespread electrification. The latter includes The New England Journal of Medicine, which published an article by three physicians recommending that “new gas appliances be removed from the market” and new gas hookups banned.

While it appears unlikely that vendors will vanquish gas-fueled cooktops and ovens anytime soon, there may come a point in the not-too-distant future when we’ll no longer be at home on the range.

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