American gas stoves are as bad for the climate as 500,000 cars

The gas stoves loved by chefs leak so much methane into the U.S. — most of it when the appliances aren’t even in use — that they have the same impact on our atmosphere as half a million cars, according to a Stanford University study.

Stanford researchers analyzed indoor levels of both heat-trapping methane and nitrogen oxides — pollutants that can cause asthma and other respiratory problems — and discovered surprising amounts of each seeping from stoves. The study, released Thursday, comes as communities across the country debate whether or not to ban the use of natural gas in new buildings as part of the fight against climate change, and as the gas industry mobilizes to push for such bans. to block.
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“Gas stoves heat the planet and release air pollutants you breathe in — you get both,” senior author Rob Jackson, an environmental scientist at Stanford, said in an interview. Cutting off gas for newly built homes makes sense, he said, “otherwise we’ll be holding back greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come.”

Methane, the main component of natural gas, has more than 80 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide during the first 20 years after it is released into the atmosphere. The study, which measured methane levels in 53 California home kitchens sealed with plastic sheeting, found that both old and new stoves leak gas, with 76% of the emissions occurring while the appliances are not in use. Since more than a third of U.S. households, or 40 million households, have gas stoves, the researchers estimate that their national methane emissions have the same global warming potential as about 500,000 cars each year.

The study also examined levels of nitrogen oxides in 32 of the kitchens and found that while stoves are in use, levels of the pollutants can exceed federal exposure guidelines if the kitchens don’t have vent hoods or those hoods aren’t turned on. It’s not clear how much methane comes from leaking pipes and fittings, incomplete combustion of the gas, design features of the stoves, or a combination of those factors.

The researchers want to expand the study to more homes and stoves, as the pandemic has limited testing. Tests include shutting off an area of ​​each kitchen to prevent emissions from gas-fired ovens or water heaters elsewhere in the home. The researchers worked with real estate agents to find vacant homes or rented them on Airbnb. The study included 18 brands of stoves, ranging in age from 3 to 30 years.

“The trickier question is how to swap out older stoves,” Jackson said. “I hope for all readers that their next stove is electric, no matter when they buy it.”

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