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Childhood asthma study sparks hot debate over gas stoves

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Ionel Stanciu
/
via Pixabay

Gas stoves have come under a new wave of scrutiny after a recent study linked them to as much as 13 percent of childhood asthma cases.

In response to the study, an official for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said that the agency may consider banning gas stoves altogether. But that idea was later shot downby the chair of the commission.

Ari Natter, an energy and environment reporter for Bloomberg, spoke to Texas Standard about regulatory options for gas stoves, and how the issue has turned into a political talking point.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Folks have been sounding the alarm about the risks of gas stoves for some time now. But you recently reported on some startling findings about gas stoves and childhood asthma. Could you say more about that? 

Ari Natter: That’s right. There’s been reports for decades kind of sounding the alarm on gas stoves. Of the most recent reports came out in December, which linked gas stoves to 12% of cases of asthma in children. The appliances have been a concern because of emissions of nitrogen oxide, as well as carbon monoxide, particulate matter and even methane.

You spoke with representatives from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. What did they have to say about it? 

That’s right. I had an interview with one of the commissioners of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Richard Trumka, who said the agency was considering a ban, among other regulations, to limit the impact on health from gas stoves. That set off something of a firestorm; in the past 24 hours we’ve seen the chair of the commission kind of walk those comments back and say that they’re not going to ban gas stoves; they’re simply looking at ways to make them safer.

Do you buy that, that they’re not looking at a ban, especially given that Trumka said right off the bat, “Yeah, we’re thinking about a ban.”

Well, Trumka may have been over his skis a little bit in his comments. I mean, the chair of the commission is saying that they’re not going to do that. What they are doing is taking public comments that’s going to inform potential regulations in addition to a ban. Other regulations could include gas standards on emissions, warning labels, even the required use of hoods to ventilate the fumes.

These appliances, though, have been a part of kitchens for as long as anyone can remember, obviously. Could this be a kind of death knell for that part of the industry? I mean, not just appliances, but we’re also talking about demand for natural gas, too. This could have a snowball effect, it seems to me – what do you think? 

That’s right, especially considering there’s a parallel effort going forward across the nation just to ban the use of natural gas more broadly because of climate concerns. Methane pollution associated with natural gas, a powerful greenhouse pollutant, is a concern. And we’ve seen cities and even some states moving to ban natural gas use entirely.

Well, given that the Consumer Product Safety Commission was quick on Wednesday to say, “no, we’re not going to ban gas stoves” – they really reacted fast and sharply, I think is probably safe to say. They must be getting a lot of pushback from the industry. 

Yeah, they definitely are. They’re getting pushback from the industry and also some of their allies in Congress. We’ve seen members of Congress calling for more oversight; Sen. Joe Manchin from West Virginia, for instance, said that if they move forward with these regulations, the commission itself should be reevaluated. I’m not sure he has that power, but still a pretty powerful message.

You cover a lot of environmental stories – why do you think this is one that just sort of really touched a nerve, it almost seems like?

Well, I mean, I think this is a symbol of government overreach, right? I mean, kind of like a Green New Deal kind of thing where people are thinking the government is going to come into their house and rip out their stove, you know, which of course isn’t going to happen. Any kind of ban would apply to the manufacturer or importer of stoves. But I mean, people were kind of affronted by this, and it’s become obvious to me that they really like their gas stoves. I mean, they’re just opposed to cooking on electric for whatever reason.

Do you think this is going to fade out rather fast, or do you think this is going to be with us for a while now?

That’s a good question. I’ve been surprised by the gas stove news cycle, if you will, with the chair of the commission saying they’re not going to ban the stoves. I think it could die, but we’ll see what they actually end up doing later this spring.

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