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Tuesday, June 6, 2023
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Kitchen Trouble

3 min read
Getting cuts and burns in a kitchen while preparing meals is the least of your worries — a new study has found that gas stoves produce air pollutants that are detrimental to both our health and the environment.

The kitchen can be a place of many potential accidents. Modern-day kitchens are much safer compared to cooking that was carried out over open, smoke-filled fires. Yet some of the dangers lurking in them today could be more insidious than one realises. Besides the common cuts and spills, a little-known hazard has to do with the cooker.

Gas cookers are popular in Singapore as they heat faster and are more versatile than other types of stoves. But, when fired up, methane — a potent greenhouse gas — is released into the kitchen and beyond. And this doesn’t just happen when the stove is on. A new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology made the surprising find that a typical gas stove will send methane up into the atmosphere even when turned off!

All gas stoves leak a little when they are burning and when you turn them on and off, but what stunned the researchers in the study was that almost three-quarters of the methane emitted from the stoves came from when they weren’t running[1]. One of the scientists, Robert Jackson, surmises that “steady-level emissions” of methane stem from ill-fitting connections and leaky pipes feeding into the stove. Since most people use their stove only for an hour or so, these emissions end up adding to most of the methane found in the atmosphere.

Gas stoves are a relatively small source of methane compared to pipelines and refineries, and they use up much less fuel than, say, water heaters, but the methane emissions from stoves are roughly equivalent to the carbon dioxide released by half a million petrol-powered cars in a year, explained the researchers. Besides the indoor pollution caused, methane is the second biggest contributor to global warming. In addition to methane, gas stoves, when turned on, also release carbon dioxide, the single biggest contributor to warming.

Nitrogen oxides are also produced when the stove gas is burned. In just a few minutes of cooking on a gas stove without a range hood on, levels of nitrogen oxide in the kitchen were exceeding US national standards, revealed the Stanford study, which was published in January 2022. This gas has been linked to respiratory problems, such as asthma, and reduced cognitive performance, which children are particularly vulnerable to[1]. In fact, 42% of children in homes with gas stoves rather than electric stoves were more likely to have asthma, said another study.

This suggests that electric or induction cookers may be better alternatives for both the climate and our health, although switching to these types of cookers will be more costly. While you are saving up to make the change, in the meantime, if you are operating a natural gas stove, do turn on the hood vent or fan and open the windows when cooking.