The Board of Commissioners was briefed on the public health review of the health risks posed by gas cookers

November 10, 2022

A Multnomah County Health Department Report suggests that gas stoves release dangerous air pollutants and that children living in homes with such appliances are 42% more likely to have asthma symptoms. Citing these health concerns, the report advises against fuel-burning appliances like gas stoves to protect public health.

On Thursday, November 10, the Board of County Commissioners received an information session experts from the Multnomah County Health Department on the report’s findings. The report pointed out that gas stoves release a variety of pollutants, including nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds. The report also highlighted the implications these pollutants have on environmental justice, noting that Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color face a higher and compounded risk from these indoor emissions because they are also disproportionately exposed to outdoor air pollution.

Chair Deborah Kafoury requested the report on natural gas appliances, which is part of the Commission’s commitment to give priority to reducing the cumulative burden of air pollution within the framework of the Clean air resolution adopted earlier this year in February.

The primary purpose of the report is to inform and educate the community about the extent to which gas appliances, such as gas stoves, contribute to indoor air quality pollution and health risks. health, said Brendon Haggerty, acting program supervisor for Multnomah County Environmental Health.

“I believe that the briefing we are going to receive on this report this morning will provide us with very relevant information for our work as health boards,” said President Kafoury.

“Our responsibility as a board of health is to improve public health and that, of course, means helping people make healthier choices and making those choices more understandable and accessible.”

The report explains how gas stoves pose a health risk in homes. Gas stoves are a source of pollution by combustion (burning). Switching on and off releases a range of hazardous air pollutants, including concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) which are up to 50% to 400% higher than homes with electric stoves, depending on to research from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

“Gas stoves are a particular concern as they are an immediate source of indoor air pollution,” Public Health Director Jessica Guernsey said of the concern over gas stoves at the interior of houses.

Using a gas stove indoors exposes people in the home to pollutants for longer periods of time because homes and buildings can trap pollutants. Guernsey shared that indoor pollutants have been ranked among the top five environmental risks to public health, citing that people will spend 90% of their lives indoors.

Even when stoves are turned off, Haggerty said, gas stoves can leak and continue to pollute indoors.

Children are at a higher risk of being susceptible to indoor pollution due to their increased breathing rate, smaller body size, and higher lung-to-body ratios, Haggerty shared. Aging adults are also at higher risk due to the likelihood of underlying illnesses, while anyone with respiratory or heart conditions is also more likely to be affected by indoor air pollution.

In Multnomah County, 1 in 10 adults report a diagnosis of asthma, making it one of the most common chronic conditions in the county.

The report also details the inequitable harms of indoor air pollution, citing that low-income people and Black, Indigenous, and people of color are disproportionately burdened by most types of pollution. According to the American Lung Association, people of color are 1.5 times more likely to live in an area with poor air quality than white people.

“Historically and now, low-income people and people of color have been disproportionately exposed to indoor air pollution or outdoor air pollution,” Haggerty said.

“When we have groups that are already burdened with illness from other exposures, adding indoor pollution to that can exacerbate existing environmental injustices.”

State Representative Maxine Dexter, a pulmonary and critical care physician, joined the presentation to share her support in prioritizing indoor air pollution reduction in Multnomah County.

“As someone who sees these impacts and inequalities on a very personal and professional level, I want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to reduce the burden of disease,” she said.

“It’s clear: disease prevention must be a priority for all of us.

Elliott Gall, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Portland State University, whose research has focused on indoor air quality for 14 years, also addressed the council. He shared a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University showing that indoor levels of nitrogen dioxide (which is often used as an indicator of combustion) were double those in homes without natural gas stoves.

Additionally, the study looked at 150 children in these homes and found high exposure to air pollution, causing an increase in asthma symptoms such as wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath.

“Given the widespread use of natural gas for cooking, the public health benefit of reduced exposure to appliance emissions is substantial,” Gall said.

Beginning in 2023, Multnomah County residents will be eligible for incentives to switch from gas appliances to electric alternatives through the federal government. Inflation Reduction Act. These incentives range from up to $8,000 per household for an electric heat pump, $1,750 for a heat pump and a water heater, and $840 for an electric cooker.

Haggerty shared that there are other steps people can take right now to limit indoor air pollution from cooking if households are unable to move away from a gas stove.

People can use electrical appliances like a slow cooker, Instant Pot, or portable induction cooktop to prepare food. An electric kettle can be used to boil water. And if you’re using a gas stove, Haggerty recommends cooking on the back burners. Using a range hood that exhausts to the outdoors or opening a window while cooking can also increase airflow and reduce the buildup of indoor air pollution.

Commissioner Sharon Meieran asked to clarify whether gas stoves were the main contributors to the impact on health risks.

“The research we reviewed did its best to isolate the effects of gas stoves,” Haggerty said, confirming that the report focuses on the effects of gas stoves themselves, apart from other factors.

“I appreciate your education-focused approach,” said Commissioner Susheela Jayapal on the submitted report.

Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson also acknowledged the educational approach of the report and presentation, noting that “disseminating information and just educating people about that information is a good place to start”.

Commissioner Lori Stegman said she appreciated the information on immediate steps that can impact health quality, such as using the back burner when using a gas stove.

President Kafoury said the report is the first step in educating the community about the health risks that gas stoves pose. “We need to educate people on why this is even a problem. Every day I tell people that gas stoves are dangerous and they don’t know it,” she said.

“And then the board can determine if they want to take the next steps and move forward.”

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