In 2023, in response to a new study showing that over one in eight cases of childhood asthma can be attributed to gas stove use, the methane gas industry attacked the study as "not substantiated by sound science," invoking a phrase popularized by the tobacco industry. The American Gas Association’s statement implied that inquiries into the negative health effects of gas stoves are a new phenomenon, writing that "as concerns over emissions from gas ranges are raised and debated," the trade association would "continue to work with regulators and policymakers to help ensure they have sound data to work with."
This could not be further from the truth. In fact, the industry should support recently-proposed regulations requiring gas stoves to be sold with ventilation hoods because it itself has recognized the vital importance of ventilating gas stoves for over a hundred years.
Concerns about the health effects of gas stoves have existed since the 1800s. As early as 1839, "the injurious effects of an excess of nitrogen and carbonic acid gas" from gas stoves were already "too well known to require comment," according to a text on heating and ventilating public buildings and apartments.
Since at least the early 1900s, the methane gas industry has known about the dangers of exposure to gas stove emissions in unventilated rooms. In the Proceedings of the Natural Gas Association of America from 1909, on page 193, that Association President Mitchell said he believes "the association will go on record" that "no gas of any kind should go into a heating stove without a flue connection." The following day of the group's second annual meeting in 1907 opened with just that question, and debate ensued, with one person offering that they "cannot be responsible for people's carelessness." Ultimately, the group concluded that "we condemn any appliance installed in such a manner as to permit the products of combustion to enter the room."
However, these early concerns did not stop the methane gas industry from aggressively promoting its toxic product. On page 249 of the Proceedings, the group discusses the need for "constant advertising" about "the merits of gas as fuel" to gin up customers, such as the baker who "must be taught that no heat is more easily regulated: that the even temperature necessary for baking may be obtained from natural gas heat."
In 1928, a San Diego public health official cited the American Gas Association's "experimentation" on carbon monoxide poisoning, which found that "a good deal depends upon intelligent installation of the proper gas appliances." While proper installation is indeed important, the AGA’s work seemed to essentially deflect blame onto consumers of second-hand stoves, stoves "which have never been inspected or approved by the American Gas Association," and those that lack "proper ventilation."
In the following decades, the science behind the health consequences of gas stoves has strengthened. In 1947, MIT research chemist Richard Berger wrote in "To Prevent Cancer" that " the housewife who doesn’t smoke may make most of her carcinogenic contacts with coal tars from the kitchen stove (when coal or gas fired)" and that "Measured in terms of freedom from generation of carcinogenic irritants, electric heat (because it has no combustion products) is ideal for cooking and heating."
(Side note: by 1958, the American Petroleum Institute's Smoke and Fumes' Committee on air pollution reported spending about a quarter-million dollars a year on research—about $2.5 million in today's dollars.)
In 1977, researchers found "boys and girls from homes in which gas was used for cooking" had "more cough," chest colds and bronchitis, and "concluded that elevated levels of oxides from nitrogen arising from the combustion of gas might be the cause of the increased respiratory illness." A follow-up in 1979 concurred: "The prevalence of one or more respiratory symptoms or diseases was higher in children from homes where gas was used for cooking than in those from homes where electricity was used."
The twin asthmatic influence of tobacco smoking and gas cooking was noted as early as 1983: "exposure of children during the first two years of life to gas cooking or cigarette smoking appears to be associated with an increased risk of hospitalization for respiratory illness."
Despite a century of "Cooking With Gas" advertisements, convincing people since 1909 that gas is great for baking and despite years of home renovation TV sponsorships, it looks like the industry conveniently forgot to let people know that it's dangerous not to ventilate your gas stove.
The lack of public awareness about kitchen ventilation is evident in several more modern studies. In a 2007 survey, some 39% of California households never, rarely, or only sometimes used their kitchen exhaust fans while using the stovetop. A 2014 study found that while asthma rates were lower in children whose parents ventilated their gas stoves, over half of the families surveyed did not do so.
Gas stoves are the only gas appliance that isn't required to have outdoor ventilation, and many people, particularly renters in low-income urban areas already facing a disproportionate impact from climate change and industrial pollution, simply do not have any ventilation for their stoves.
The health consequences of gas stoves have been "raised and debated" since at least 1839, and the methane gas industry admitted to the need for proper ventilation of gas stoves as early as 1909. However, in 2023, over one hundred years later, the industry is choosing to completely reject even the most basic regulations of their toxic product, while Republicans are promising that you'll have to pry their gas stoves out of their cold, dead hands.