The kitchen is the emotional centre of many people’s homes. It’s the place where family and friends gather to chat, catch up, laugh, and snack while meals are being prepared. And it’s the room where many families eat their meals. Unfortunately, few people are aware the gas stove in their kitchen is bad for their health because such stoves discharge toxic chemicals.
Although everyone is at risk from the nitrogen dioxide emitted by gas stoves, some groups are at heightened risk. Numerous studies have shown that children living in homes with gas stoves have higher rates of asthma. For example, a peer-reviewed meta-analysis of 41 studies showed that nitrogen dioxide and cooking with gas increased the risk of asthma and other respiratory problems in children. And in a further study it was estimated that 12.7% of current childhood asthma cases in the United States could be attributed to gas stove use. Other groups at heightened risk include pregnant women and individuals with pre-existing medical conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other respiratory problems.
Gas stoves also release a variety of hazardous air pollutants that are known to cause cancer, and which have other serious health impacts. One such chemical, benzene, is emitted at levels well above established health standards. In fact, these levels are comparable to the average concentrations from second-hand smoke. It’s also been shown that benzene is emitted from gas stoves both when the stove is turned off and turned on. (Here is a summary of the harmful health effects of gas stoves.)
In addition to their harmful health effects, methane, the primary component of unburned natural gas, is an extremely potent greenhouse gas. A 2022 study by Lebel and colleagues showed that gas stoves leak natural gas. Although some leakage happened when the stove was in use, about three-quarters occurred when the appliance was turned off. Lebel and his colleagues estimated that the annual impact of methane emissions from gas stoves in the United States was equivalent to that of 500,000 cars.
Electric ranges and induction stoves are the best ways to cook. Both types of stoves use electricity and don’t emit harmful pollutants into your home and heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. An induction stove relies on electrical energy to pass a current through a copper coil beneath the glass cooktop surface, which is then transferred to heating magnetic cookware above it. Although induction stoves are relatively unfamiliar to most Canadians, these stoves are used by about 35% of European households.
Which stove to buy, electric or induction?
Deciding which type of stove to purchase will depend on your budget and cooking preferences. Induction stoves are 5-10% more energy efficient than electric ranges, but both types of stoves are 2 to 3 times more energy efficient than gas stoves. Electric stoves are much less expensive than induction stoves, but many people, who cook with induction, rave that these stoves heat much more quickly, allow for much greater precision over their temperature, and are safer because the stovetop is not hot even if the element is left on. (See the following, for a longer discussion of the relative merits of induction vs electric stoves.)
Given that there are healthier options than gas stoves, why has the transition from gas stoves to healthier induction or electrical stoves not occurred more quickly? One reason is that many people are unaware of the health risks associated with gas stoves. This information is not widely available and is not provided on websites advertising the sale of different types of stoves.
Government policies in Canada have also subsidized the natural gas industry. For example, the Ford government will continue to build gas pipelines to serve new customers at no cost to the natural gas industry. It’s the existing and new customers using natural gas, who are on the hook for a $360 million bill required to provide connections to new customers.
And making the switch from a gas stove may be difficult or impossible for people living in an apartment or a condo. However, there ways to get around this problem for some people. Recently I spoke to a woman in the third trimester of her pregnancy. She and her partner were alarmed at the health risks to them and their new baby by the gas stove in their apartment. When they shared their concerns with their landlord, the landlord agreed to remove the gas stove provided the tenants paid for the induction stove.
A variety of government policies are needed to accelerate Canada’s transition from gas to healthier electric and induction stoves. This is especially timely to consider now because all levels of government in Canada are prioritizing the need to build additional housing. Any new home built because of these initiatives with a gas stove is almost certainly locking in that home to a gas stove for 15 years, the life expectancy of a gas stove. And choosing to electrify new homes and commercial buildings when they are being constructed is much cheaper and easier to do than retrofitting these buildings with electrical in the future.
Here are some policies introduced in other jurisdictions that should be considered. The United States currently provides rebates that help pay for some of the additional expense of an induction stove with larger rebates for lower income families. New York has passed legislation that will ban natural gas in many new homes and buildings. Finally, it’s important for all levels of government in Canada to stop subsidizing the natural gas industry.
Failure to introduce policies that more rapidly transition to greater use of electrical or induction stoves will result in more gas stoves, worse health for Canadians, and more greenhouse gas emissions.
Norman W. Park is Professor Emeritus, Clinical Psychology, York University, and a member of SCAN!’s Education Committee.