How Gas Companies Concealed the Dangers of Gas Stoves for Decades
In 2023, many people asked themselves the question: "Are gas stoves safe?" Media attention focused on studies that linked gas stoves to childhood asthma cases and benzene emissions, a substance associated with an increased risk of cancer.
However, gas stoves have long been under scrutiny for releasing toxic indoor chemicals.
Six decades ago, Dr. Carl Shy conducted a study on the health effects of nitrogen dioxide. His study revealed that families living in areas with higher levels of this outdoor air pollutant experienced more respiratory illnesses than those in less polluted areas.
Upon reading his research, the gas utility industry informed Dr. Shy that gas stoves also produce nitrogen dioxide due to their high temperature. Dr. Shy promptly replaced his gas stove with an electric one, but the majority of Americans did not follow suit.
So, why do one-third of Americans still use gas stoves, even after six decades?
The Gas industry took a cue from Big Tobacco to hide the information about gas stove pollution
In October 2023, NPR and the Climate Investigations Center conducted an investigation, revealing the decades-long effort of the gas industry to downplay the health risks of gas stoves. The gas industry employed identical public relations (PR) tactics and the same PR firm that the tobacco industry used to conceal the risks of smoking.
The study found that in 1972, when it became evident that exposure to nitrogen dioxide, which is released by gas stoves, was linked to respiratory illnesses, the American Gas Association (AGA) turned to the PR firm Hill + Knowlton.
Richard Darrow, who was the account manager at Hill + Knowlton for Big Tobacco and helped create a controversy around the health effects of smoking, handled AGA's account as well.
Darrow devised a long-term PR plan for AGA to shape the narrative that the evidence around the health risks of gas stoves was inconclusive.
AGA also hired researchers to conduct so-called independent studies. One of these researchers was Ralph Mitchell of Battelle Laboratories, who had also been funded by Philip Morris and the Cigar Research Council.
In 1974, Mitchell's team used the same controversial analysis technique that they had used for Big Tobacco and concluded that they found no significant evidence that the stoves caused respiratory illness.
In 1981, the Gas Research Institute, in conjunction with consulting firm Arthur D. Little (also affiliated with Big Tobacco), further concluded that the evidence against gas stove pollution is “incomplete and conflicting.”
The conflicting studies confused the consumers and the federal government
In 1982, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted a review of the health effects of nitrogen dioxide pollution, which included five studies. However, these studies yielded conflicting results. Interestingly, four out of the five studies that found no evidence of problems were funded by the gas industry, as revealed by the Climate Investigations Center.
Unfortunately, this practice hasn’t stopped. When the study linking rising childhood asthma cases with gas stoves came out in December 2022, AGA said that the findings were “not substantiated by sound science” and that even discussing a link to asthma was “reckless.”
When Multnomah County in Oregon convened a public hearing in December 2022 on the health hazards posed by pollution from gas stoves, the gas industry hired a toxicologist named Julie Goodman to testify.
And guess what? She used the same tactic!
She raised doubts about the research regarding health concerns related to stoves and referred to a review that indicated there was little cause for concern. However, she did not disclose that she was employed by the local gas utility, NW Natural, and that her opinions may be influenced by this affiliation.