Gas Stoves Have a Pollution Problem

The city of Eugene can help protect its residents

by Maisie Bailey

For decades, the fossil fuel industry has worked tirelessly to ensure that we associate gas stoves with luxury and gourmet cooking, but now, this façade is starting to crumble. For many, the blue flame is becoming a symbol of pollution, respiratory disease, climate change and even carcinogens — thanks to national discourse around the growing body of research linking “natural” methane gas to significant health impacts. 

As a medical student at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), I think it’s past time that Oregon state leaders take steps to protect communities from dangerous air pollutants from gas appliances. As a lifelong Eugene resident, I am proud that my city is leading the way by developing Oregon’s first policy to phase out gas appliances in new residential construction.

The scientific literature connecting gas stoves with health harms like asthma dates back decades. Dozens of peer-reviewed scientific studies connect gas stoves with unhealthy air quality in homes, and health impacts like asthma. A new peer-reviewed study published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, which made headlines this year, found that 13 percent of childhood asthma cases in the U.S. can be attributed to gas stove use — that’s more than 650,000 kids with asthma caused by the continued use of gas.

The research connecting gas stoves with childhood asthma is so convincing that major medical associations, including the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association, have passed resolutions/proposed policy statements declaring gas cooking a public health concern, and advocating for programs to support an equitable transition to healthier electric alternatives. 

But it’s not just asthma that Oregonians should be concerned about with gas stoves. There is also a strong connection between gas stoves and unhealthy levels of benzene, a chemical linked to cancer. A groundbreaking study by Oakland-based PSE Healthy Energy on stoves in California found that the appliances are leaking alarming levels of benzene directly in homes — and in residences with the leakiest stoves, benzene concentrations were comparable to living with second-hand tobacco smoke.

Despite this overwhelming body of research, gas utilities, trade associations and fossil fuel industry players like our local gas utility company, NW Natural, are trying to sow doubt about the established science by referencing a single study out of context. The gas industry’s misuse of this study’s findings are so egregious that one of that study’s co-authors, Dr. Bert Brunekreef, has begun publicly protesting the industry’s abuse of his work, stating that the American Gas Association’s attempts to refute the established science is “not a good use of our study.” Brunekreef’s later work found a link between gas stoves and asthma.

For many low-income communities and communities of color, health risks from gas stoves in homes are compounded by high levels of fossil fuel pollution outdoors. This is true in west Eugene, where I grew up in the working-class Bethel neighborhood — a community where 66 percent of households are considered low-income, and where a higher percentage of people of color reside compared to the rest of the city.  

Factories and industries in west Eugene are responsible for 96 percent of all toxic emissions released in Eugene, and asthma rates in the Bethel School District are almost double those of other neighborhoods in Eugene. Living with a pollution source like stoves directly in our homes is an added risk for our already overburdened lungs.

Despite a decades-long propaganda campaign waged by the gas industry to convince us to love our gas stoves, and targeted advertising to children in the form of school work books, public sentiment is turning toward electrification. I myself just moved into an apartment with an electric induction stove and absolutely love it. 

Oregonians won’t be fooled by the fossil fuel industry. There is no doubt that burning gas in homes is dramatically impacting our health and our safety, and our climate. It’s time to ditch this polluting fuel and transition to safe, electric alternatives that not only reduce risk for our most vulnerable community members, but will also help to ensure a livable climate and a future for younger generations. 

I applaud the city of Eugene for moving forward with electrification and encourage folks to write in support of the ordinance to require that new homes are all electric that is currently being considered. Visit the Fossil Free Eugene website to get more information.

Maisie Bailey is a lifelong Eugene resident and University of Oregon alum who is currently studying medicine at Oregon Health and Science University. The views here are her own and not of OHSU.