As a parent, how worried should I be about my gas stove? Experts weigh in.
Gas stoves have come under scrutiny after a new study linked the common appliance to nearly 13% of cases of childhood asthma. Now the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (USCPSC) is conducting its own research into gas stoves in response to the latest findings and other data that has associated gas stoves with health issues, noting in a statement that "emissions from gas stoves can be hazardous."
"This is a hidden hazard," Richard Trumka Jr., a commissioner at the USCPSC, told Bloomberg. "Any option is on the table. Products that can't be made safe can be banned." (The USCPSC later clarified that it has no jurisdiction to ban products and is not trying to ban gas stoves.)
Still, people have questions — a lot of questions. The latest study, which was a data analysis, found that gas stoves, which are used in about 40% of homes in the U.S., were responsible for 12.7% of childhood asthma cases. At a basic level, the concern is that gas stoves can give off high levels of nitrogen oxides, which could potentially lead to respiratory issues in kids.
Many parents have questions about whether it's safe to continue to have a gas stove in their homes, but experts largely urge people to stay calm — and to understand what the data actually says and means. Here's what you need to know.
As a parent, should you be worried about childhood asthma if you have a gas stove?
Not necessarily. Asthma and allergy experts stress to Yahoo Life that a lot of factors go into whether a child will develop asthma. "Cooking with gas stoves creates nitrogen dioxide, which is a tiny airborne particle that can act as an irritant to the lungs," Dr. Ben Nelson, a pediatric pulmonologist at Mass General for Children, tells Yahoo Life. "In children with asthma, it can potentially be a trigger for asthma symptoms."
But Nelson stresses that doesn't mean that gas stoves cause childhood asthma. The most common factors for whether a child will develop asthma include a family history of asthma, allergies, respiratory problems during infancy and childhood, exposure to secondhand smoke, air pollution and having obesity, according to the American Lung Association (ALA).
Asthma is a condition that is exacerbated by triggers, which commonly include things like dust mites, air pollution, pets, pollen and mold, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Patients with asthma have different triggers and responses to those triggers," Nelson says. "There's no way for me to say that every patient with asthma will be exacerbated by exposure to a gas stove. It's even harder for me to say what your symptoms will be if you have asthma and you are exposed to a gas stove."
Despite how it's been interpreted, the study didn't conclusively find that gas stoves cause childhood asthma. "This is a public health paper — it's not a double-blinded, placebo-controlled study that said gas stoves cause asthma," Dr. Khalil Savary, a pediatric pulmonologist at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, tells Yahoo Life. "Correlation does not equal causation." Meaning that just because a child develops asthma in a home with a gas stove doesn't mean the stove actually caused the asthma.
Savary says what the paper seems to determine is that gas stoves are prevalent and that asthma rates seem to be higher in areas where gas stoves are common. "But they're not controlling for things like allergies to mold and other factors you commonly find in multi-family living," he says.
This isn't the first time a research paper has linked gas stoves to asthma, but the data is a bit muddled an inconsistent. One meta-analysis of 41 scientific papers found that gas stove ownership could increase the risk of childhood asthma by about 3 percentage points. Another study of children in Russia found that asthma diagnoses were higher for children who lived in homes with gas ranges, but they also couldn't determine that cooking with gas increased symptoms of asthma. And another study of 3,590 children found that gas stoves were linked to an increase in cases of asthma in girls but not boys.
Dr. Melanie Collins, a pediatric pulmonologist at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life that parents "need to be practical" about concerns over gas stoves and to put things into perspective. "We exist in a universe where people are breathing in triggers all day long," she explains.
It's also not feasible to think that all parents can — or even should — start ripping out their gas stoves in favor of an electric or induction range, Savary says. "Try to problem solve with what you have before telling your landlord that this gas stove is ruining my family and I'm withholding rent until it's replaced," he says.
Are the numbers for real?
The latest study's finding that 12.7% of current childhood asthma nationwide is attributed to gas stove use seems extreme — it's similar to the childhood asthma burden linked to secondhand smoke exposure. "This may not be a true representation of what is happening, and there is uncertainty around how many children with asthma are truly because of those emissions," Dr. Deeba Masood, an allergist and immunologist at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital and Northwestern Medicine Grayslake Outpatient Center, tells Yahoo Life. "Asthma is a multifactorial disease."
Nelson says that it's "a hard conclusion to reach" that gas stoves are to blame if someone has symptoms of asthma and they grew up in a household with a gas stove. "My takeaway from the study is that if patients are living in a home with a gas stove and they have asthma, some of them may be impacted by the gas stove," he says. "But there are lots of patients who are around gas stoves, have asthma and have asthma symptoms, but the gas stove has nothing to do with it."
So, should you consider replacing your gas stove, now or in the future, if you have the financial means? Experts say even that isn't necessary.
"I don't think removing gas stoves but keeping everything else like pet exposure and exposure to pollution like the idling school bus will make a difference," Savary says. Collins stresses the importance of having good ventilation when using a gas stove. "The great thing about air and your exposure to gas stoves is that you can mitigate it by doing something small, like opening a window, using the exhaust system in your range and making sure that the air goes outside," she says.
Nelson agrees. "The best way to mitigate any risk would be running the ventilation hood and the fan — that can definitely decrease any exposure." But Nelson stresses that you don't need to feel like you should replace your gas stove. "It's expensive to do so and hard to know how much of an issue this is causing, if any," he says. If you have a child with asthma and you're concerned about your stove's impact on them, he suggests considering keeping them out of the kitchen when you're using your stove, along with using good ventilation.
"If you're in the market for a stove and have a child at home with asthma or risk for asthma, you could consider getting an induction or electric stove," Nelson says. "But I don't think the benefit or need is so great that you need to make a big, expensive purchase based on these findings alone."
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