People who use gas or propane stoves in their homes are regularly exposed to harmful levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a new study shows. The household appliances emit pollutants that can be linked to approximately 200,000 current cases of childhood asthma, with 25 percent of those cases tied to nitrogen dioxide alone.

The study, published Friday in Science Advances, represents the first time researchers have quantified the link between gas stoves and asthma from NO2 exposures inside homes. “I didn’t expect to see pollutant concentrations breach health benchmarks in bedrooms within an hour of gas stove use, and stay there for hours after the stove is turned off,” Rob Jackson, a professor at Stanford University and the lead scientist on the study, said in a statement.

Jackson’s team of Stanford and Harvard University researchers used sensors to measure concentrations of NO2 in about 100 homes in the United States. They found that use of gas and propane stove elevated exposure to NO2 by 4 parts per billion – 75 percent of the World Health Organization’s standard for indoor and outdoor exposure. 

Smaller Homes Equals More Exposure

Long-term exposure to NO2 from gas stoves is high enough to possibly cause as many as 19,000 deaths each year, researchers stated. People who live in homes smaller than 800 square feet — about the size of a small two-bedroom apartment — breathe in twice as much NO2 over the course of a year compared to the national average, they found.

Long-term NO2 exposure is 60 percent higher among American Indians and Alaska Natives, and 20 percent higher among Black and Hispanic households, the study found. The researchers attributed this to higher rates of poverty in those communities.

“People in poorer communities can’t always afford to change their appliances, or perhaps they rent and can’t replace appliances because they don’t own them,” Jackson said in the statement. “People in smaller homes are also breathing more pollution for the same stove use.”

The new study joins a growing body of evidence that cooking with gas – long termed “natural gas” by the industry – causes other serious health risks by releasing additional substances, including the greenhouse gas methane, hydrogen sulfide, toxic air pollutants that can cause respiratory problems, as well as formaldehyde and benzene, two known carcinogens. 

Long-term exposure to NO2 from gas stoves is high enough to possibly cause as many as 19,000 deaths each year, researchers stated.

It also arrives on the heels of legislation advancing in two states that would require manufacturers to warn consumers about the risks of cooking with gas.

Last week, the California Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee advanced a bill that would require gas stoves sold in the state to come with a warning label on the health risks associated with their use. 

“When we learn more about everyday appliances that could have harmful impacts on one’s health, it is so important to educate consumers about those harms,” Assemblywoman Gail Pellerin (D-Santa Cruz), who introduced the bill, said in a statement.

Illinois is considering similar legislation

The American Public Gas Association (APGA), a trade group representing publicly-owned gas distributors, has opposed the California bill, saying that warning labels on gas cooking appliances are unnecessary.

In April, the group sent a letter to the California Environmental Safety Commision, stating that there is no need to add a warning label to gas cooking appliances: “The legislation is unnecessary, as existing safety standards and building code requirements provide consumers with robust protection from cooking emissions.”

A New Social Media Blitz

However, a new social media campaign launched today aims to counteract the APGA’s stance, and more than 50 years of powerful advertising by the American Gas Association (AGA) —  a trade organization representing natural gas utilities — that portrays gas stoves as both safe to use and environmentally friendly. 

Called “Put a Label on Gas,” the social media blitz is being produced by a nonprofit, the Gas Leaks Project. The campaign plans to enlist influencers on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, said Maria Luisa Cesar, communications director with the Gas Leaks Project, and will direct viewers to a petition urging the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to put health warning labels on all gas stoves. 

“Did you know our gas stove leaks 21 toxins even when we’re not using it?,” exclaims a young woman in a TikTok video, peering into her oven. “I feel like all my favorite chefs cook on gas, and they’ve never said anything about this!”

While TikTok is the platform of the moment, using influencers to sway the public on cooking with gas isn’t new. According to Charlie Spatz, research manager at the Energy and Policy Institute, the AGA has been doing something similar since the 1960s. “They relied on celebrity chefs like Julia Child to persuade the public to buy gas stoves,” Spatz told DeSmog. “And they continue to do similar marketing efforts today, and increasingly are doing so as more and more science comes out that harms their narrative about gas cooking.”

“Due to decades of misleading marketing by the oil and gas industry, 72 percent of Americans have a favorable or somewhat favorable view of natural gas.”

Spatz said the AGA’s marketing has also hampered the progress of electrification policies. He believes that “it’s important for groups like the Gas Leak Projects to push back against the AGA’s narrative.”

The AGA did not respond to DeSmog’s request for comment.

“Due to decades of misleading marketing by the oil and gas industry, 72 percent of Americans have a favorable or somewhat favorable view of natural gas,” said James Hadgis, a filmmaker and the Gas Leaks Project’s executive director. 

“That percentage drops significantly,” he told DeSmog, “when we tell people natural gas isn’t natural, it’s methane, and it’s toxic for your health.”

The Gas Leaks Project is funded by climate advocacy individuals and groups, and is sponsored by the nonprofit Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. A coalition of climate groups, including Fossil Free Media, Energy Media, Sunstone Strategies, and Climate Nexus, founded the group in 2022.

An earlier Gas Leaks Project campaign, “Hot and Toxic,” parodied reality TV to put some humorous spin on its serious message. One video featured nearly two dozen irritating housemates, each representing different pollutants associated with natural gas, bursting in on an innocent homeowner.  

A warning label from the “Hot & Toxic” campaign. Credit: The Gas Leaks Project

“I’m nitrogen dioxide, but you can call me Di,” said one female housemate clad in a strapless sequined dress, “because this body is to die for. And I’ll probably make you die.”

Humor can reach people where dry facts may not, Cesar said. “We’re well aware of the tactics that the gas industry uses to disinform the public and to make it appear as though gas is ‘natural’ or safe or clean. We are fighting fire with fire.”

The Gas Leaks Project is funded by climate advocacy individuals and groups, and is sponsored by the nonprofit Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

The gas industry’s greenwashing tactics were also in the spotlight in Congress last week, when the Senate Budget Committee and Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability held a hearing on decades of oil and gas industry deception about the effects of carbon and methane gas emissions on the climate and public health. 

The hearing was timed to the release of a congressional report critical of the gas industry’s public portrayal of natural gas “as a green, climate-friendly fuel while internally acknowledging that there is significant scientific evidence that the lifecycle emissions from natural gas are as harmful to the climate as coal,” according to a statement from the Senate Budget Committee.

“As this joint report makes clear, the industry’s outright denial of climate change has evolved into a green-seeming cover for its ongoing covert operation,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said in a statement, “a campaign of deception, disinformation, and doublespeak waged using dark money, phony front groups, false economics, and relentless exertion of political influence — to block climate progress.”

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