B.C. pediatrician questions new research linking gas stoves to childhood asthma

Click to play video: 'New controversy over safety of gas stoves in homes'
New controversy over safety of gas stoves in homes
WATCH: New controversy has broken out over the safety of gas stoves after an official with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission suggested they should be banned. Travis Prasad reports – Jan 10, 2023

As an American consumer safety organization considers a ban on gas stoves, a Vancouver pediatrician is weighing in on the health concerns that are fuelling the fire.

Last month, a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health linked cooking with indoor gas stoves to increased risk of childhood asthma. The peer-reviewed research attributed 12.7 per cent of current childhood cases of the disease across the United States directly to gas stove use.

The findings have since prompted the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to mull regulation on gas stoves, which release pollutants that are harmful both to the planet and human health, including methane and nitrous oxide. Those two substances have been previously linked to worsening asthma symptoms.

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Click to play video: 'U.S. considers gas stove ban'
U.S. considers gas stove ban

A Canadian pediatrician, however, is raising questions about the study’s assertion of causation between the stoves and asthma.

“This specific study that was just recently published by investigators from the U.S. and Australia is suggesting a calculation of what could be causing asthma in children,” said Dr. Ran Goldman, a pediatrics professor at the University of British Columbia.

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“This is not a true representation of what is happening and there is a huge uncertainty around how many children with asthma are truly because of those emissions. Asthma is a multifactorial disease. It’s a disease we’re still studying because it’s so complex.”

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According to the American Lung Association, family genetics, air pollution, obesity, smoke and second-hand smoke inhalation, allergies, viral respiratory infections and occupational exposures, are all contributing factors to asthma.

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“There may be a role to reduce emissions of gas, whether within the house or outside, in order to prevent some children with asthma, but it’s really hard to grasp that 13 per cent of children are having asthma just because of this exposure to gas emission from stoves at home,” Goldman said.

He said more research is needed before a change in stove type is recommended in Canada, but it’s not too early for parents to improve the ventilation in their homes — regardless of what kind of stove they have.

The Canadian Gas Association wasn’t available for an on-camera interview Tuesday.

A natural gas and cooking safety sheet on the organization’s website, however, states that a properly installed vented hood range can reduce indoor concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and other emissions from cooking, by more than 80 per cent. It also recommends cooking on the backburner when possible, opening windows, and using a heat recovery ventilator that replaces stale indoor air with outdoor air.

Authors of the December study analyzed 27 peer-reviewed manuscripts dealing with gas appliances, cooking and heating and children. The study was conducted by researchers at RMI, an organization that advocates for climate-friendly, carbon-free buildings, the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Medicine, the Sydney Local Health District’s public health unit, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Department of Epidemiology and Population Health.

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Their findings suggested a proportion of childhood asthma could be prevented if a gas stove weren’t present in the home, but that proportion varied by state. It estimated 21.1 per cent of cases could be prevented in Illinois, 20.1 per cent in California, and 18.8 per cent in New York.

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Tara Kahan, Canadian research chair in environmental analytical chemistry and an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said she was intrigued by the study. Her own research on air quality in homes five years ago found a spike in the level of certain pollutants in homes, like nitrogen oxides, whenever gas stoves were used.

“They lingered — when people stopped cooking, sometimes it took hours for the levels of these nitrogen oxides to go down to what we were measuring before the cooking,” she told Global News.

“We didn’t make any links to any kind of health effects, but since then there have been studies that have made some links between these emissions from gas stoves and human health.”

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The findings on gas stoves were a surprise, Kahan added, and not an intentional focus of the team’s work.

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