Asthma study sparks debate over gas cooking safety

New research linking cooking with natural gas to about 12% of childhood asthma cases has sparked debate about the health risks of stoves, as well as calls in the United States for stronger legislation

New research linking cooking with natural gas to about 12 percent of childhood asthma cases has sparked debate about the health risks of stoves, as well as calls in the United States for increased regulation.

The study authors said their findings suggest that about 650,000 children in the US would not have developed asthma if their homes had electric or induction ranges, comparing the health effect to that of secondhand smoke.

But an expert involved in the study disputed its findings and warned that gas remains far healthier than cooking with wood, coal and charcoal, which are estimated to cause 3.2 million deaths a year from household air pollution, overwhelmingly in developing countries.

The US peer-reviewed study was published last month in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

It is based on a calculation of the risk of asthma in homes with a gas stove from a 2013 review of 41 previous studies.

Combining this calculation with US Census data, he linked 12.7% of childhood asthma cases in the US to cooking with gas.

The same calculation was previously used in a 2018 study that attributed 12.3% of childhood asthma cases in Australia to gas stoves.

A report published on Monday used the same calculation to link 12% of childhood asthma to gas cooking in the European Union.

The report, which has not been peer-reviewed, was released by energy efficiency group CLASP and the European Public Health Alliance.

N02 levels exceed limits

The European report included computer simulations carried out by Dutch research organization TNO analyzing air pollution exposure in various European household kitchens.

The level of nitrogen dioxide was found to exceed EU and WHO guidelines several times a week in all scenarios except a large kitchen with a hood vented outside the house.

Nitrogen dioxide, which is emitted when gas is burned, is “a pollutant closely linked to asthma and other respiratory diseases,” according to the WHO.

This year, CLASP will collect air quality readings from 280 kitchens across Europe in an attempt to confirm the results.

The research comes amid increased scrutiny of gas stoves in the United States.

Richard Trumka Jr., commissioner at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, tweeted Monday that the agency “will consider all approaches to regulation.”

“To be clear, the CPSC is not coming for anyone’s gas stoves. The regulations apply to new products,” he later added.

The American Natural Gas Association, a lobby group, denounced the US study as a “defence-based mathematical exercise that adds no new science.”

Brady Seals, director at the Rocky Mountain Institute and co-author of the study, dismissed the lobby group’s statement.

“Of course, it’s just math,” he told AFP. “But it gives us a number we’ve never had before.”

‘It’s not clean’

Stanford University’s Rob Jackson, who has previously published research showing that climate-warming methane can leak from gas stoves even when they are turned off, said the US paper “is supported by dozens of other studies that conclude concluded that breathing indoor pollution from a gas can trigger asthma.’

But researchers working to transition the three billion people who still cook with harmful solid fuels such as wood, coal and charcoal to cleaner sources have expressed concern.

Daniel Pope, a professor of global public health at the University of Liverpool in the UK, said the link between asthma and pollution from gas stoves has not yet been conclusively proven and further research is needed.

Pope is part of a team conducting research commissioned by the WHO to summarize the health effects of different types of cooking and heating fuels.

Pope told AFP that the results, which will be published later this year, indicated a “significant reduction in risk” when people switched to gas from solid fuels and kerosene.

They found “negligible (mostly non-significant) effects of using gas compared to electricity for all health outcomes — including asthma,” he added.

Seals responded by saying the study did not hypothesize a causal link between asthma and cooking gas, but cited the association between exposure and the disease using studies dating back to the 1970s.

“I think it’s a real problem that the international community doesn’t explicitly recognize the well-known, well-researched danger of gas stoves,” Sills said.

“Gas is definitely better” than cooking with wood or charcoal, he said. “But it’s not clean.”



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