Ed. This piece is adapted from a LinkedIn post by Steve Everley, a communications advisor in the field of energy.
A study last month generated some scary headlines about the supposed “health risks” of your gas stove – an appliance that most homeowners prefer (and for good reason).
If you were frightened, take a deep breath. You were misled.
First of all, the headlines that the study generated were alarming. Things like:
“Gas stoves are a threat to health and have larger climate impact than previously known, study shows” (CNN)
“Gas stoves in kitchens pose a risk to public health and the planet, research finds” (Washington Post)
“Stanford scientists find the climate and health impacts of natural gas stoves are greater than previously thought” (official release)
But it gets worse.
One of the researchers said in the press release announcing the study that you should replace your gas stove with an electric one: “Why not reduce the risk entirely? Switching to electric stoves will cut greenhouse gas emissions and indoor air pollution,” said Dr. Rob Jackson, a Stanford professor and study coauthor.
Dr. Jackson also told the Washington Post that it’s a “good idea” to replace your gas stove with electric, although he did issue the caveat “if you have the financial ability to do so.” Probably wise, because electric is more expensive than gas, often considerably so.
But here’s the best (worst) part: After weeks of those scary headlines proliferating, the lead author of that study—in a comment buried deep in a story published February 10 in Popular Mechanics—said: Actually, replacing your perfectly fine gas stove is “not the right response at this time.”
“We don’t want people to go out and completely ditch a perfectly good gas stove,” lead author Eric Lebel said.
After weeks of reports that your gas stove was secretly hurting you and your family, we find out that you just need to ensure proper ventilation (which is true regardless of whether you use gas or electric, by the way).
But the damage was already done. Google “gas stoves and health” and you’ll find endless headlines about that study that could frighten working families into making costly replacements that they both can’t afford and don’t need to make.
Meanwhile, another expert told a separate media outlet that the researchers had encased the kitchens in a Mylar tent to “trap and concentrate the emissions, and then measure the concentration.” No one cooks in a kitchen like that! He said it would “incorrect” to draw any health conclusions from the paper.
If you like electric appliances, that’s great. A lot of people do, and having that optionality is key for affordability.
But this isn’t zero sum. Gas appliances are safe. If your house has gas appliances, you are safe—and you are probably saving a fair amount of money too.
Hopefully, journalists, we can all agree that the next time a study makes a claim about how gas appliances are supposedly harmful to your health, an appropriate level of scrutiny will be applied at the time of, and in the same article as, the announcement itself.
I won’t be holding my breath waiting for NPR to issue a clarification or inform its listeners that its original regurgitation was erroneous.
When it comes to their broadcast of climate propaganda, in twenty years, NPR has never admitted error or doubt.