When the blue flame fires up on a gas stove, there’s more than heat coming off the burner. Researchers at Stanford University found that among the pollutants emitted from stoves is benzene, which is linked to cancer.
Levels of benzene can reach higher than those found in secondhand tobacco smoke and the benzene pollution can spread throughout a home, according to the research.
The findings add to a growing body of scientific evidence showing that emissions within the home are more harmful than gas stove owners have been led to believe
The risks of benzene have long been known. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the chemical is linked to leukemia and other blood cell cancers.
“Benzene forms in flames and other high-temperature environments, such as the flares found in oil fields and refineries. We now know that benzene also forms in the flames of gas stoves in our homes,” said Rob Jackson in a statement. He’s the study’s senior author and a Stanford professor of earth sciences.
With one burner on high or the oven at 350 degrees, the researchers found benzene levels in a house can be worse than average levels for second-hand tobacco smoke. And they found the toxin doesn’t just stay in the kitchen, it can migrate to other places, such as bedrooms.
“Good ventilation helps reduce pollutant concentrations, but we found that exhaust fans were often ineffective at eliminating benzene exposure,” Jackson said. He says this is the first paper to analyze benzene emissions when a stove or oven is in use.
Researchers also tested whether cooking food – pan-frying salmon or bacon – emits benzene but found all the pollution came from the gas and not the food.
The American Gas Association, which represents natural gas utilities, routinely casts doubt over scientific research showing that burning natural gas in homes can be unhealthy. Last year the powerful trade group criticized a peer-reviewed study showing gas stoves leak benzene even when they are turned off. The AGA offered similar criticism of a 2022 analysis, which showed 12.7% of childhood asthma cases in the U.S. can be attributed to gas stove use in homes.
Medical experts are starting to take stands against cooking with gas. Nitrogen dioxide emissions have been the biggest concern, because they can trigger respiratory diseases, like asthma. The American Public Health Association has labeled gas cooking stoves “a public health concern,” and the American Medical Association warns that cooking with gas increases the risk of childhood asthma.
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