Every night before he goes to bed, Rich Trumka Jr. reads a list of death reports.
He’s a commissioner at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, a key regulatory agency that oversees the safety of tens of thousands of products, from batteries to baby cribs.
Trumka’s job to uncover the ways our household items can potentially hurt us—and to help find ways to make them less hazardous. To him, it’s a public service, and one he takes seriously.
“These are things nobody thinks about until a tragedy strikes, but we’ve got folks like me thinking about them every day,” he said.
One thing on Trumka’s mind right now is taking some people in the food world by surprise: Are gas stoves making us sick?
The biggest concern, he said, is about indoor air quality. Specifically, gas stoves emit significant quantities of a substance called nitrogen dioxide, plus methane and about 20 other pollutants—even when the flame is turned off. Many of these emissions, but nitrogen dioxide in particular, have been linked to respiratory illnesses such as asthma.
The numbers are serious: Of all U.S. childhood asthma cases today, according to a recent study published in the International Journal of Respiratory and Public Health, about 13% are attributable to gas stoves. A 2013 analysis of more than three dozen independent studies found that exposure to gas stoves increases a child’s asthma risk by about 42%.
It’s incredibly difficult to accept the fact that, maybe, without knowing it, our time in the kitchen has actually been hurting the ones we love. It’s emotionally unmooring. It shakes the core of how we imagine ourselves and our relationships to food and to one another.
“We’re forced to think of all the good memories we’ve had in the kitchen and accept that, during those moments, we could’ve been putting ourselves at risk or our kids at risk,” Trumka said. “It’s really infuriating for some of us—myself included—to come to terms with something like that.”
It’s a scary truth—but one we need to hear. Ultimately, Trumka said, he trusts that consumers can make informed decisions when they have accurate and complete information.
“They can handle getting tough news, particularly when they can do something about it,” he said.
Alternatives to gas stoves—particularly induction appliances—are becoming more accessible. The new Inflation Reduction Act helps provide rebates for switching away from gas in your home. And some cities and states are helping lead the push toward cleaner appliances, too. Legislators in New York; California; Washington State; Eugene, Oregon; and others have proposed or enacted policies that restrict gas appliance hookups in new buildings.
Unfortunately, misinformation about gas stoves is rampant, and we must work hard to correct it. Certain political leaders are drumming up politicized outrage by claiming that government regulators want to make gas stoves illegal to possess.
“I’m not anti-gas, I’m anti-people-getting-hurt,” Trumka said.
Almost every restaurant kitchen runs on gas appliances, and I often hear professional cooks say that gas is necessary to produce restaurant-quality food. This is not necessarily true, and our top restaurateurs are paying attention. At chef Dan Barber’s restaurants, for example, every station has an induction cooktop alongside gas. And celebrity chef Eric Ripert told the New York Times
“As chefs, we have a responsibility beyond the kitchen to understand our impact on the environment,” the chef and food advocate Adrian Lipscombe said. “I believe we are used to what we know when it comes to using gas stoves, but technology is advancing and better options are becoming available. Chefs need to expand our thoughts and experience on using better options and become educated on how we can aid lowering food carbon emissions.”
The misinformation on gas stoves, often, comes directly from the source—the gas industry. In fact, regulators have known about the hazards of gas stoves for decades, and the gas industry has been fighting back.
As early as 1982, Trumka said, CPSC
“It’s fascinating to see how industries react,” Trumka said. “Do they meet the moment and work hard to make their product safer, or do they throw money and misinformation at any hint of progress toward safety?”
“Time will tell,” he continued, “but I know what we’ve seen so far.”
And in the meantime, Trumka wants to hear from you.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s official request for information on gas stoves is open until May 8, to gather input from scientists, businesses, chefs, and especially the public. Trumka said he wants to hear your opinions, personal experiences, and even any articles you’ve read or stories you’ve seen. He wants to be thorough, and you can help make sure the agency doesn’t miss any important details. Submit a comment here.
I want to thank the unsung heroes who make the world better for us all—like Commissioner Rich Trumka Jr. of the CSPC, and like his father, Richard Trumka, the longtime leader of the AFL-CIO who passed away last year after decades fighting for worker health and justice.