Some bureaucrats in the Consumer Product Safety Commission have floated a proposal to ban the sale of gas kitchen stoves. Their chief spokesmodel, Commissioner Richard Trumka, Jr., weighed in:
“This is a hidden hazard,” Trumka told the outlet. “Any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”
Let’s start with the blatant falsehood of that statement. Can cars be made safe? In 2020, there were 25,536 motor vehicle fatalities in the U.S. That excludes motorcyclists (5,579) and pedestrians, cyclists, and other (7,709). There is a much stronger case for banning cars and motorcycles than gas stoves. Or maybe ban pedestrians and bicycles.
This article begins with a review of some basic chemistry coupled with the “research” on which the proposed ban is based. After that we’ll look at statements from the American Gas Association as well as an interesting report from the National Fire Prevention Association. After that I’ll summarize some of the highly appropriate mockery of this idiotic proposal.
The first story I read about this was in the New York Post. The article linked to a website described as the source of the article. That page was the home page for American Chemical Society journals, a very prestigious group of publications. The journal in question was published in an outlet that is not an ACS publication. The publisher is MDPI, a group of open-source journals – and not nearly as impressive as ACS. The blame could fall on the researchers, the reporter, or Post editors. I’ve let them know there’s a problem. So far the link has not changed.
The green energy group behind a study cited in Consumer Product Safety commissioner Richard Trumka Jr.’s call to ban gas stoves has partnered with the Chinese government to implement an “economy-wide transformation” away from oil and gas.
Colorado-based nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute, which published the December study that attributes 13 percent of U.S. childhood asthma cases to gas-stove use, is hardly staffed by an objective group of scientists.
In other words, one methane molecule combines with two oxygen molecules to produce one carbon dioxide molecule and two water molecules. Neither CO2 nor H2O are poisons. For those a little rusty on chemical equations, here’s a verbal description:
There is a gotcha in this. The equation above describes complete combustion. If methane is burned in an enclosed space, the flame will eventually go out as all the oxygen is consumed. But before it is extinguished, it will burn incompletely, producing some CO. This is carbon monoxide, a true poison. The oven on a gas stove is at least somewhat enclosed and likely produces small amounts of CO. That’s why you should have a range hood with a properly sized fan and a window that opens easily in your kitchen. Ventilation is the cheapest and best solution to just about any problems created by gas stoves.
The “research” that led to the astounding proposal to ban gas stoves is positively ludicrous. “Population Attributable Fraction of Gas Stoves and Childhood Asthma in the United States” is the title, probably the most impressive piece of the paper. To summarize their methodology, after noting that 35% of U.S. households have gas stoves, they looked at the percentage of children under 18 “exposed to gas stoves.” The implicit assumption is that all households with gas stoves use them for cooking. Apparently, the authors are not familiar with the idea of a “trophy kitchen” including very expensive appliances and related items. These kitchens may be used when having a party. In that case, the kitchen will be used by the caterers. Most trophy kitchens have gas stoves. A few opt for magnetic induction. But there is virtually no exposure to any harmful gases to anyone in the house.
In fact, the authors did not gather much new data. Instead, their paper is a meta-study that uses results from several other papers. Naturally, all the papers selected concluded that gas stoves harmed kids. QED, wave magic wand, their paper also reaches this conclusion. I must add that, ultimately, they looked at data from only nine states. I’m sorry, but that’s too small a sample size.
I’ve read a few of these other studies, mostly in conjunction with my city’s ban on natural gas in new construction. Sadly, that was passed by the city council, joining San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Palo Alto, and San Jose. None of them looked at electric stoves. A few looked at magnetic induction. Several referred to CO2 as a poison. Most mentioned CO without looking at actual densities. All used an enclosed room with no ventilation. But one of the most remarkable findings is increased levels of NO2 (nitrogen dioxide).
Review the chemistry above. There is no nitrogen in methane. There is certainly no nitrogen in oxygen molecules. “But,” you say, “nitrogen is 78% of the earth’s atmosphere. Couldn’t the flame burn some nitrogen to produce NO2?”
The short answer is, “No.” Nitrogen is an inert gas. It does not burn at stove temperatures. Internal combustion engines with their combination of heat and pressure, produce some NO2. Leading to the question of the source of the NO2 in these studies of gas stoves.
According to Wikipedia, NO2 is a reddish-brown gas with an odor like chlorine. Think about that for a minute. If you smelled chlorine anywhere in your house, you would open a window (at minimum). Yet there are no reports of this smell in the studies. Which means either the concentrations are too small to notice, or the measurements taken by researchers are incorrect.
My guess is that the NO2 is produced from cooking and (possibly) heating cooking utensils. A quick internet search of “NO2 produced by cooking” led to a fine article titled “Ultrafine particles and nitrogen oxides generated by gas and electric cooking.” (Dennekamp, et.al.) Here are the results from the abstract (emphasis added):
High concentrations of particles are generated by gas combustion, by frying, and by cooking of fatty foods. Electric rings and grills may also generate particles from their surfaces. In experiments where gas burning was the most important source of particles, most particles were in the size range 15–40 nm. When bacon was fried on the gas or electric rings the particles were of larger diameter, in the size range 50–100 nm. The smaller particles generated during experiments grew in size with time because of coagulation. Substantial concentrations of NOX were generated during cooking on gas; four rings for 15 minutes produced 5 minute peaks of about 1000 ppb nitrogen dioxide and about 2000 ppb nitric oxide.
Later in the same paper, the truth comes out (albeit obliquely):
The tiny particles produced during burning of gas are probably carbonaceous. We have shown evidence that the very small particles are likely to agglomerate, thus reducing the overall number as time passes. Small particles are also generated when the electric rings are turned on without a pan. These might have been deposited matter burnt off the ring, metal from the rings themselves, or both. This type of emission does not occur when a pot of water is put on the ring, and we assume that this is a consequence of the heat of the ring being conducted to the water so that material on the ring does not burn off.
Translation: any research that just turns the stove on without cooking anything produces heat levels much higher than when there is a pot, pan, or kettle on the burner. The real danger is created when you just turn the burner on (gas or electric) and walk away. If you do that regularly, please stop.
And you may have noticed the reference to “deposited matter burnt off the ring, metal from the rings themselves, or both.” Every stove ever used for cooking has residuals on the surfaces, often grease and other less volatile products. Given the small quantities of NO2 found in the studies, it’s likely that this is the source. This is consistent with the research described here.
In summary, the source of the NO2 is running the stove without cooking anything. The most likely source is deposits left on the stovetop from … cooking. And, to top it all off, even in a sealed room the NO2 dissipates in about three hours. Get a good range hood, open a window, and stop worrying about health effects.
Statement From the American Gas Association
The AGA was not happy with this recommendation. They immediately issued a press release: https://www.aga.org/news/news-releases/statement-aga-concerned-by-methodology-of-new-study/
This was followed by a more detailed refutation of the research:
This is especially damning:
Inexplicably, the authors ignored their own search of peer-reviewed manuscripts since 2013, where they found “none reported new associations between gas stove use and childhood asthma specifically in North America or Europe.” That critical finding was evidently jettisoned in service of a headline-grabbing approach and without acknowledging any of the underlying studies’ significant limitations or inconsistent findings.
The National Fire Protection Association Weighs In
One criticism of most studies of gas stove safety is their failure to do any measurements of electric stoves. A rare exception is the Dennekamp, et.al. study cited earlier (see endnote 7). But there are other risks from electric stoves.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) published a study titled “Home Cooking Fires” (July, 2020).First let’s look at some basic statistics (emphasis added):
… During 2014–2018, cooking was the leading cause of reported homei fires and home fire injuries and the second leading cause of home fire deaths.
Cooking caused an average of 172,900 reported home structure fires per year (49 percent of all reported home fires in the US). These fires resulted in an average of 550 civilian deaths (21 percent of all home fire deaths) and 4,820 civilian injuries (44 percent of all reported home fire injuries) annually.
Ranges or cooktops were involved in 61 percent of reported home cooking fires, 87 percent of cooking fire deaths, and 78 percent of cooking fire injuries. Households that used electric ranges showed a higher risk of cooking fires and associated losses than those using gas ranges.
The days when cooking fires are most likely are Thanksgiving and Christmas.
What factors are most important in causing home cooking fires? The most important is equipment unattended.
Here’s my advice. If you turn on the stove, especially the stovetop, and you often leave the room, set a timer for five or ten minutes to remind you to go put out the fire in your kitchen. Or, even better, set it for three minutes so you’ll arrive before the fire starts. A smoke detector in the kitchen is a good idea (although smoke from cooking will trigger it more often than you like). The paper includes a discussion of the best ways of installing and using a smoke detector in your kitchen. There are undoubtedly high-tech fire detection systems available today.
But here’s the important data for this article: electric vs gas ranges.
An electric stove is 2.6 times as likely to be involved in a fire as a gas range. Electric ranges were 3.5 times as likely to cause a fire resulting in death. Fire-caused injuries occurred 4.8 times as often with electric stoves. And, interestingly, the average loss per household was 3.8 times as high for electric ranges compared to gas stoves.
One obvious, but overlooked, factor is the appearance of being cool. When a gas burner is turned off the cooking surface cools rapidly. But that is not true for electric stoves. In fact, the heating coil may look cool but still be hot. It’s easy to accidentally throw a towel onto a stove you think has cooled. My high school chemistry teacher used to ask the class, “How can you tell hot glass from cool glass?” His answer is etched into my memory: “Grasp it firmly and watch for the smell of burning flesh.” My lovely wife suggests leaving pots and pans on the stove burners so you’re less likely to touch them accidentally.
There Are Many Critics
Chief among them, at least in terms of sheer vitriol, is the National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke. On January 10, “The Only Proper Response to a National Gas-Stove Ban” hit the web. Those unfamiliar with Mr. Cooke’s work are likely to become converts to his unique phrasing. (Emphasis in original)
One could advance any number of compelling arguments against the Biden administration’s reported desire to institute a nationwide ban on gas stoves. One could note that such prohibitions are clearly not within the federal government’s constitutional powers. One could question the president’s priorities in a time of inflation and consumer alarm. One could observe that the study that has led the administration to consider outlawing gas stoves is ridiculously — and deliberately — flawed. One could even ask how such a measure — which would make many forms of ethnic cooking more difficult — could be squared with all that fashionable talk of systemic implicit racial bias. And yet to offer any of these objections would ultimately be counterproductive, insofar as it would signal an acceptance of the premise underlying the policy, which is that this is the sort of matter that a free people should expect their federal government to superintend.
I do not accept this premise, and, as a result, I must offer up a response wholly different from the ones above. Namely: Bugger off.
That’s right. The correct response here is a rather simple one, all told: Go away. Leave us alone. Stick your ludicrous propositions where the sun don’t shine.
Charles followed up the very next day with “Ban Electric Ranges! A Progressive Freakout from an Alternative Universe.” This is the fine piece that pointed me to the NFPA’s research on household fires (originally posted by John Hasson on Twitter. I would have linked to Mr. Hasson’s tweet, but he has restricted his account.) Again, from Mr. Cooke (emphasis in original):
Do not misunderstand me: I do not wish to ban or limit the sale of electric ranges. Nor do I think the federal government has the power to do so. I merely wish to point out that, if the hyperactive progressives who are currently going after gas stoves wished instead to make the case against electric ranges, they could instead use these stats as their pretext, and they could do so with exactly the same level of stridency as they are currently exhibiting.
And they would. In such a case, Richard Trumka Jr. would be insisting that “products that can’t be made safe can be banned,” and then reciting the statistics above as his justification. In such a case, AOC would be asking people on Twitter, “did you know that the civilian fire injury rate per million households was 4.8 times higher with electric ranges than in households using gas ranges?” … If the same people were trying to ban electric burners, that — and not whatever stats they can find about gas stoves — would be plastered all over everyone’s mentions on social media. The whole thing is a game. The only appropriate response is: Bugger off.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board weighed in with “Biden Is Coming for Your Gas Stove” featuring this fine bit of criticism:
Studies flogged by the climate left don’t account for the effects of ventilation. One even sealed a test kitchen in plastic tarps in an effort to show that gas stoves increase pollution. The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood, the most comprehensive global study to date, found “no evidence of an association between the use of gas as a cooking fuel and either asthma symptoms or asthma diagnosis.”
It’s not enough to force Americans to buy electric cars. We must all cook on electric stoves too.
The WSJ editors followed up with “The Coming Gas Stove Culture War.”
A Biden appointee on the Consumer Product Safety Commission explicitly threatened to ban gas stoves based on dubious evidence of public-health harm. “This is a hidden hazard,” said commissioner Richard Trumka Jr. “Any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”
We and others criticized the idea, and the media response was to rush to blame conservatives for starting it all. “Right’s new fight: Gas stoves,” said Axios, which pushes hard for the climate alarmist agenda. The Washington Post assured its readers that “regulators have no plans to ban gas stoves, but Republicans are slamming the Consumer Product Safety Commission for announcing it will examine the health impacts of the appliances.”
But we didn’t make up Mr. Trumka’s quote. We and others responded to it. After withering public criticism, including by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, the CPSC Chairman denied any plan to ban, and the White House said President Biden also doesn’t want to ban gas stoves. But that’s cold comfort given that the climate left does want to ban them, and progressive cities and states are doing it.
The WSJ editorial mentions something noted earlier here:
Progressive cities such as Berkeley, San Francisco and New York City have already banned gas stoves and other appliances in new buildings.
If only. Research by S&P Global Market Intelligence reveals that at least 50 California political entities have banned natural gas in new construction. This article is dated Nov. 23, 2021 so the number is undoubtedly higher today. Here’s the map summarizing the state of CA about 14 months ago.
The article linked above covers much more than just California. I urge readers to take a look at it.
Finally, today Gerard Baker of the Wall Street Journal penned a wonderful op-ed “How the Gas Stove in Your Kitchen Became a Symbol of Freedom.” Here are the first few paragraphs:
The Great Gas Stove Rebellion of 2023 probably won’t resonate with future generations of freedom-loving folk the way the Boston Tea Party does. It’s unlikely that the plucky protagonists in the struggle to save our ovens and ranges from the grasping hands of regulatory totalitarianism will one day be celebrated as the Samuel Adamses and Patrick Henrys of the kitchen appliance age.
“Give me smoothly regulated gas-flow cooking capability or give me death!” has a flaming blue ring to it. But it lacks somehow the peal of urgency, the alarm of existential threat our stone-kiln-firing predecessors could adduce to fuel their noble cause.
Still, the little victory secured last week over the forces of progressive technocratic authoritarianism is significant in its way—even if it may prove only provisional and someday in a bleak, electrified future, our Vikings and Kenmores are eventually prised from our cold, dead hands.
Has this been too long? If anything, it’s too short. The proposed ban is government overreach at its finest. Charles C.W. Cooke’s response is best: bugger off.
- Mr. Trumka is the son of Richard Louis Trumka who was a notorious union boss. Trumka Sr. was president of the United Mine Workers from 1982 to 1995, then moved up to secretary-general of the AFL-CIO until 2009. He was elected president of that organization in 2009 and kept the job until his death in 2021. This is the only known qualification Trumka Jr. has for being on the CPSC. Unless you count degrees from Cornell and Georgetown law. ↑
- Technically CH4. But creating subscripts is a pain. The current usage is in-line numbers and letters. ↑
- CO2 may be a “greenhouse gas.” But it is also a key component of plants’ diets. Without CO2 there would be no plant life on earth. Which probably means no life at all. The photosynthesis process converts CO2 into a carbon compound (cellulose is one example) and oxygen. ↑
- Carbon monoxide combines with hemoglobin in human blood to prevent oxygen from bonding. Without oxygen in your blood, you will die. CO is colorless and odorless, making it a very sneaky poison. ↑
- Gruenwald, T.; Seals, B.A.; Knibbs, L.D.; Hosgood, H.D., III. “Population Attributable Fraction of Gas Stoves and Childhood Asthma in the United States.” Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2023, 20, 75. ↑
- I’m doing this from memory. Apologies if any of the cities listed do not have such a regulation. ↑
- Dennekamp M, Howarth S, Dick CAJ, et al. “Ultrafine particles and nitrogen oxides generated by gas and electric cooking.” Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2001;58:511-516. . Accessed January 12, 2023. Click here to return to the article if you got here via a hyperlink. ↑
- Occasionally, my background in chemistry gives me some good intuition. ↑
- Ahrens, Marty (July, 2020). “Home Cooking Fires.” Available at https://www.nfpa.org//-/media/Files/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics-and-reports/US-Fire-Problem/Fire-causes/oscooking.pdf . Accessed January 14, 2023. ↑