Do Gas Cook Stoves Cause Asthma?

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From Watts Up With That?

Opinion by Kip Hansen — 19 January 2023

No, they do not.  As true as that it, it does not make for a very informative OpEd. 

I know, I know…. ”There’s a Study!”  There is always a study when the press and government power-seekers propose doing something as nutty as banning natural gas cooking stoves and home heating equipment.  There have been other pieces here (and all over the press) as to whether or not “The Government is coming for your gas stoves!”.  They are, but that is not what I’m writing about today. 

What kicked off the press frenzy, besides the faux pas by Richard Trumka Jr., a US Consumer Product Safety commissioner, was a study that was interpreted in a New York Times OpEd by Farhad Manjoo as this:

“About 13 percent of cases of childhood asthma in the United States may be attributable to gas cooktops, a recent study found — a population-level effect similar to that of exposure to secondhand smoke.”

The recent study is: Population Attributable Fraction of Gas Stoves and Childhood Asthma in the United States by Talor Gruenwald, Brady A. Seals, Luke D. Knibbs and H. Dean Hosgood III, which was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health which is an ”open access journal published semimonthly online with article processing charges (APC) paid by authors or their institutions.”  Some would interpret this to mean a “pay-to-play online journal”.

And who are the authors?  The lead author is  Talor Gruenwald – who’s listed institution is “RMI, Carbon-Free Buildings” – and who is RMI? The Rocky Mountain Institute, Amory Lovins’ was the founder.  Talor Gruenwald is touted at Energy Central as providing “quantitative analysis and policy research in support of eliminating fossil fuel use in buildings at the Rocky Mountain Institute.” Co-author Brady A. Seals is also at RMI.  The other two co-authors are real epidemiological researchers: Luke D. Knibbs and H. Dean Hosgood III, both studying air pollution and other issues.

So, this is an activist-driven study.

Did this study actually measure children’s exposure to gas stoves, water heaters and furnaces (or any pollution that they might have caused)  in the homes in which children suffered from asthma?  No, of course not.  Did this study actually measure any homes for NO2 levels and connect this to children’s asthma?  No, of course not.

This was a “meta-analysis” study.  This means that this study tried to combine the findings of previous studies, some dating back many years, that seemed to study the issue at hand. 

Did those studies actually measure the real-world exposure of any children to pollution caused by the us of gas appliances in homes of children who suffered from asthma?  Not that I can find.   In fact, there is no Supplemental Information available for this study and thus no list of the “The title review identified 27 manuscripts as potentially pertinent. Full manuscripts (n = 27) were independently reviewed by co-authors; none reported new associations between gas stove use and childhood asthma specifically in North America or Europe.”

Say what?  None of the studies covered specifically North America or Europe?  

Here’s the thing: 

“As a result, effect sizes previously reported for current asthma in North America and Europe combined (weighted by inverse variance; Nstudies = 10; Odds Ratio (OR) = 1.34, 95% Confidence Interval (CI) = 1.12–1.57) were utilized in the PAF estimations.”

They don’t actually seem to have done a new study on effects of gas stove use and asthma at all – they used “effect sizes” from  a 2013 study which itself was a meta-analysis, in which the 2013 authors re-analyzed (tortured) each of the original studies’ data until it admitted that gas stoves were bad.  

The 2013 study uses data from a number of even earlier studies, such as a 1978 study that did actually measured NOlevels and found that NO2 levels in homes that had gas cooking or heating in children’s bedroom to average 0.03 ppm while ambient outdoor air in the neighborhood had NO2 levels of 0.02 ppm.  We have to wonder at the tremendous power of that extra 1/100th of a part per million to damage children’s health. 

In another examined study, the finding was:  “In the 1977 cross-sectional study, only the prevalence of day or night cough in boys (p « 0.02) and colds going to chest in girls (p < 0.05) were found to be significantly higher in children from homes where gas was used for cooking compared with children from homes where electricity was used.” (NB: Not asthma.]  Yes, gas cooking causes boys to cough and girls to get colds in their chests.

Many of the studies found no effect from gas cooking stoves on children’s respiratory health, with findings such as this: “No relation was found between the type of fuel used for cooking in the home and the prevalence of respiratory symptoms and diseases recalled by the mother after allowing for the effects of gender, social class, and parental smoking.” 

Almost every contemporary study on gas appliances and asthma in children start with some version of:  Gas stoves emit pollutants that are respiratory irritants. U.S. children under age 6 who live in homes where gas stoves are used for cooking or heating have an increased risk of asthma, wheeze and reduced lung function.”

Bottom Lines:

1.  Gas cooking stoves are blamed for children’s respiratory illnesses, like asthma, widely in the literature.  Almost none of the studies actually measure the exposure of the child to the putative cause:  hours exposed to how much gas stove use; measure NOlevels in the home, whether there are multiple gas appliances in the home (water heaters, clothes dryer, heating appliance), or ambient NOin the child’s outdoor environment or school.  Many of the studies failed to note or take into account parental smoking in the home. 

2.  In the UK studies, it was found that poorer homes used the cook stove or oven to heat the house – vastly increasing byproducts of combustion in the home.  Homes that use the oven to heat the home are unlikely to leave the windows open for proper ventilation.

3.  This topic exposes the often seen “everybody knows” aspect of health sciences in particular.  The Health Sciences have already decided that gas cooking stoves are bad – on the thinnest of evidence.  Thus, every new study relies on older studies, which themselves rely on even older studies, going back decades, that “sort-of say it is so”.  Thus we have the Salt Wars, the Sugar Wars, the Obesity Wars, the Med Diet War, the PM2.5 Wars – all of which are based on the same sort of iffy science. What we need in these areas of study are “start from scratch” proper more-or-less randomized, controlled designs (RCD).  And some just plain Good Science.

4.  I have a niggling suspicion that there is a concerted effort coming from the anti-fossil-fuels advocacy camp to produce lots of “science” that condemns home gas appliances (stoves, ovens, water heaters and furnaces) as “harmful to the health of children” towards the end of instituting bans on natural gas use in homes.   They have had some successes with states and cities. With enough “evidence” (no matter how thin and ephemeral) advocacy groups can petition or sue (as in sue-and-settle) the EPA for “relief”. 

Sequence of Events:

1)  Trumka [US Consumer Product Safety commissioner ] recommended in October (2022) that the CPSC seek public comment on the hazards associated with gas stoves.

2)  Rocky Mountain Institutes submits a meta-analysis paper based on decade old studies to a journal on 4 November 2022, which is published just before Christmas 2022.

3)  Armed with the “new study” Trumka blabs out on 9 January 2023 that gas stoves are harmful and  Bloomberg had this: “The US Consumer Product Safety Commission will move to regulate gas stoves as new research links them to childhood asthma.”  ““This is a hidden hazard,” Trumka Jr. said. “Any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.” [ source ]

4) Chaos ensues with wild backpedaling and denials from all quarters in the U.S. administration.

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Author’s Comment:

Before anyone accuses me of conspiracy thinking, let me be perfectly clear.  The intention of Rocky Mountain Institute’s study authors, Talor Gruenwald and Brady A. Seals, state clearly, as a policy, that their purpose is to produce research in support of eliminating fossil fuel use in buildings. 

And they did.  Personally,  I think they (RMI) alerted the US Consumer Product Safety Commission in advance of their intention to do the study and what they would find, thus the initiating the call for public comment, to which RMI submitted the paper (maybe a pre-print) in support of a finding of harm. 

The anti-fossil fuels groups have way too much funding and very clever public relations professionals planning these campaigns – and they are very successful.  To the detriment of the public good.

Thanks for reading.

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