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The Gas Stove Controversy, Explained

A photo illustration of a 1950s housewife cooking on a gas stove.

Of all the things to get heated about, I didn’t think gas stoves would be one of them.

J.K. Rowling? Fanning the flames of transphobia. Definitely worth getting hot and bothered about. Chick-fil-A? Homophobia served up spicier than their chicken sandwiches. But when have gas stoves left anybody burned? Metaphorically, of course.

The answer may surprise you.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission announced in December that it would consider creating health regulations for gas stoves for the first time ever. The issue burned even hotter when Bloomberg announced that the commission was in fact considering an all out ban on gas stoves. The backlash was immediate, with Texas Senator Ted Cruz tweeting “that the last thing that would ever leave my house is the gas stove that we cook on.” Don’t flatter yourself Ted, I’m not even sure you could cook a Pop-Tart if your life depended on it.

The end of the gas stove is still a long ways off. After all, over a third of American households are still “cooking with gas”, as your uncle likes to say when things are going well. After all, many Americans swear that cooking with gas just makes things taste better, and is all around superior to electric induction-based cooking. Other people like the fact that that their houses are equipped with a 24/7 cigarette lighter. But many Americans simply can’t afford to make the switch away from gas, no matter how much they wish they could to protect the climate. However, experts say that climate concerns are not the only reason to turn off your burners for good, and that gas stoves can be a cause of indoor air pollution.

When you turn on your gas stove to fry up an egg, the stove starts pumping out methane. Methane gas is one of the most potent greenhouse gases on the face of the planet, second only to carbon dioxide. But methane gas isn’t the only harmful thing coming out of your burner. Your non-portable cigarette lighter is also spewing out carbon monoxide (the colorless, odorless thing that kills you in your sleep) and formaldehyde (the thing they use to preserve your newly dead body). Seems bad! However, the lesser known nitrogen dioxide is the cause for the most concern. Nitrogen dioxide is responsible for causing respiratory illness and cardiovascular problems, making people more likely to develop asthma. This gas (and others like it) are a natural byproduct of burning methane, meaning there’s no way to prevent them from leaking into your kitchen. The level of nitrogen dioxide released into the air when your stove burns methane would be considered illegal by the EPA in any other context. But inside your kitchen? Inexplicably, it’s totally fine. Or is it?

Since the 1980s, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has known that gas burning stoves are cause for health-related alarm. As a result, the American Medical Association has faced increased pressure to make a statement on the harmful effects of gas burning stoves, which they later did. Meanwhile the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health estimated that slightly over one in ten cases of childhood asthma are caused by gas stoves. The gas industry pushed back, citing a 2013 study made by Lancet Respiratory Medicine that there was “no evidence of an association between the use of gas as a cooking fuel and either asthma symptoms or asthma diagnosis.” One of the co-authors of the study later admitted that additional research refuted the original study’s claims. The gas industry has said that proper ventilation is the key to reducing NO2 pollution from gas stoves. But while many industrial and restaurant kitchens are equipped with the proper ventilation systems, most gas stoves installed for home usage don’t have these systems at all.

So have gas stove users finally seen the light? Will America turn off its burners for good and bask in the enlightening glow of the electric stove? Nope. Instead, the gas stove debate poured gasoline onto an already raging culture war.

Within days of the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s suggestion that the government should considering restricting gas stoves, Republican politicians were quick to voice their support of the toxic chemical creating machines. Republican Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio took to Twitter with the statement “God. Guns. Gas Stoves.” Because apparently childhood asthma is what the founding fathers had in mind for this country, along with school shootings and ubiquitous acceptance of monotheistic religion. Sean Hannity said in a statement on Fox News, “Not only is Biden coming for your paycheck, he is coming for your stove. You heard me right. The White House is now attempting to ban all gas ovens and burners.” In response to the Republican outrage, the CPSC’s commissioner Richard Trumpka tweeted that the commission “isn’t coming for anyone’s gas stoves.”

Many of the internet’s most depraved denizens were quick to use the gas stove controversy in order to drum up likes and clicks. One TikTok user posted a video of herself turning on all of her gas stove burners with a caption that read “my gas stove identifies as electric,” in a childish attempt aimed to denigrate “liberal” notions of sex and gender. What she doesn’t seem to realize is that unless she turns her stove off, the coroner is soon going to identify her as “dead” from carbon monoxide poisoning.

In response to the overflow of scientific research to the contrary, the gas industry is funneling exhaustive amounts of money into PR campaigns claiming that gas is good for you. Gas companies have come up with campaigns like “cooking with gas”, which attempt to convince people that the best chefs cook on gas stoves. According to Melissa Aronczyk, a Rutgers University professor who has written about public relation campaigns made to cover up public health issues, the gas industry using the same playbook that the tobacco industry used in the ’60s and ’70s. After all, everyone knows that cigarettes will kill you, but that hasn’t stopped people from buying them. The cycle is repeating itself once again. A gas stove will mess with your lungs, but people will continue to use them anyway.

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