Gas cookers 'should come with a health warning'

Gas cookers ‘should come with a health warning’: Report reveals the appliances pump out ‘unsafe’ levels of pollution – as experts call for Brits to move to electric hobs and ovens

  • Scientists found 55% of gas cookers analysed breached NO2 safe levels weekly
  • The WHO limit was also breached for 1.9 of the 13 test days on average, they said

Gas cookers should be fitted with health warnings, according to a report that has found the appliances fill a kitchen with air pollution that breaks recommended safe levels.

Researchers rigged monitoring equipment in more than 280 homes — 40 in the UK — as well as France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania and Slovakia.

More than half of homes using gas hobs and gas ovens in the experiment breached the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended maximum level of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) once a week. 

Around 54 per cent of British homes cook using gas.

The results would mean that, over a year, one in four British homes would have dirtier air inside than outside the home.

Researchers rigged monitoring equipment in more than 280 homes — 40 in the UK — as well as France , Spain , Italy , the Netherlands , Romania and Slovakia. They found that in normal cooking conditions, more than half of homes (55 per cent) the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended maximum level of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was breached in homes using gas hobs and gas ovens around once a week

Levels of NO2 — a gas that can cause asthma — was found to be around twice as high in kitchens and living rooms using gas appliances compared to those using electric appliances, on average, and significantly higher in bedrooms.

But homes using electric appliances did not breach the NO2 level.

The research was commissioned by non-profit energy efficiency group CLASP and conducted by the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO).

Sensors were placed in 35 British homes, as well as hundreds more in other countries that also have large populations cooking on gas and childhood asthma cases linked to cooking on gas.

Breaching limit values increases health risks.

The research builds on previous findings that shows children in homes with a gas cooking appliance have a 20 per cent increased risk of suffering a respiratory illness, according to the WHO.

What is nitrogen dioxide? 

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a gas mainly produced during the combustion of fossil fuels. 

Short-term exposure to concentrations of NO2 can cause inflammation of the airways and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections and to allergens. 

NO2 can exacerbate the symptoms of those already suffering from lung or heart conditions.

Pollution spikes in British homes cooking on gas could last several hours and were more intense the longer the cooking time, the researchers said today.

The WHO daily limit was breached for 1.9 of the 13 test days, on average.

Kitchens with extractor fans did not clear much pollution, perhaps because of improper use, according to the researchers.

At present there are no UK policies to tackle the health risks of gas cooking, with binding limits only applying to outdoor air pollution, under the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010.

The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Chris Whitty, last year also stated how important regulation is to cut pollution from indoor appliances. 

It should be on manufacturers to clean up their products, CLASP said. 

Government should phase-out sales of new gas cookers, prevent them being installed in new homes and incentivise consumers to switch to electric cookers. 

In the meantime, consumers should be warned about pollution through labelling, it said.

A recent opinion poll by Opinium found up to three quarters of respondents (74 per cent) say they would consider getting rid of their gas appliances due to air pollution.

Nicole Kearney, CLASP Europe Director, said: ‘Our research reveals the severity of air pollution caused by gas cooking appliances in homes across Europe. 

‘Empowering people with knowledge on the health risks of these products is essential, and they need resources to upgrade to cleaner and healthier hobs and ovens. 

‘In turn, governments must protect public health, tackling air pollution at the source and supporting the transition to cleaner cooking.’

TNO senior scientist, Piet Jacobs, said: ‘We have measured in our field study that in 25 per cent of the selected British households cooking on gas the EU NO2 limit value for one hour exposure was exceeded. Where outside levels were below these values.

‘Changing to electric cooking, preferably combined with use of well-designed ventilation hoods to reduce exposure to high levels of particulate matter from cooking, can bring these values down to below recommended levels.’

The above graph shows the current legal limit for air pollution in the UK (far left) and plans to halve it in England by 2040 (left) to 10mcg/m3. But this is still above the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended level, which is 5mcg/m3

Professor Frank Kelly of Imperial College London said: ‘Gas hobs and ovens are a major source of indoor air pollution, including NO2, which can both exacerbate existing health conditions and potentially lead to new respiratory illnesses. 

‘For children with asthma, the presence of gas cooking appliances can intensify their symptoms. 

‘Removing these appliances from our homes will improve indoor air quality and mitigate potential risks to public health.’

The scientists also measured for fine particulate matter. In kitchens, this is caused by outdoor pollution blowing in and food cooking, rather than the appliance fuel source. 

The scientists found no significant difference in emissions between homes cooking on gas and electric.

Scientists not involved in the study supported calls for gas cookers to come with a health warning.

Jonathan Grigg, Professor of Paediatric Respiratory and Environmental Medicine, at Queen Mary University of London said: ‘Cooking, especially frying, produces significant indoor pollution if not adequately ventilated. 

Read more: Even ‘SAFE’ levels of air pollution can trigger heart attacks – and you can be struck down within an hour of inhaling dirty air, study warns 

‘Cooking with a gas hob also produces nitrogen dioxide which increases children’s risk of developing asthma. Since electric cooking increasingly uses sustainable energy, the gas hob is headed for extinction.

‘It is reasonable that new gas hobs come with the warning that they “should only be used with high quality ventilation”.

Peter Chan, Oxford BHF CRE Intermediate Transition Research Fellow, Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford said: ‘Indoor air pollution (IAP) is a long-overlooked issue in the UK. 

‘While much of the existing policies and media focus on outdoor air pollution, IAP could dominate our total exposure because we spend the majority of our time indoors.

‘Cooking is a major source of IAP, both from on-site fuel combustion (mostly gas in the UK) and cooking fumes (vaporised aerosol mixture from cooking oil and food). 

‘It is well-known that gas cooking would result in increased levels of NO2 indoors, and the public should be clearly informed of the associated health risks. Hob labelling or public education campaign may be useful.

‘In contrast, while cooking fumes is much less well-researched, gas cooking with poor quality cookware may result in less even heating of food, and “hotspots” in the cookware may produce larger amount of potentially harmful air pollutants. 

‘The interaction between naked flame with vaporised oil or related chemicals may produce even more noxious pollutants.

‘Internally-circulated extractor fan is common in the UK and they are often poorly maintained – these would not only have low effectiveness in reducing IAP, but the air current could help disperse the pollutant more widely throughout the residence.’

Professor Christian Pfrang, Chair of Atmospheric Science at the University of Birmingham said: ‘This is a very important and comprehensive study across seven European countries including the UK, clearly demonstrating significant health risks associated with gas hobs in private homes.

‘As we spend 80 to 90 per cent of our time indoors, it is key to understand better our exposure to hazardous pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2). 

‘This is particularly important for vulnerable groups, for example children with respiratory diseases such as asthma, who often spend even longer periods indoors and are most strongly affected by poor indoor air quality. 

‘This study provides clear evidence that gas hobs are a major source of NO2 indoors, frequently increasing indoor pollutant levels well above comparatively well-regulated outdoor NO2 levels. 

‘These indoor NO2 levels exceed WHO guidelines as well as UK and EU air quality standards, so they would be illegal outdoors. Gas hobs clearly put residents needlessly at a greater risk of respiratory diseases.

‘This study should be an urgent wake-up call for regulators, policy makers, industry as well as the general public to move away from gas hobs to electric, ideally efficient induction hobs, that also have the co-benefit of lower associated carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, so additionally help to reach net-zero targets in the UK. 

‘A move to electric hobs, together with well-ventilated cooking environments can significantly improve the health and wellbeing of vulnerable groups across Europe.’


CAUSE CHILDREN TO HAVE A LOW IQ: Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found in May 2019 that children born to mothers who live in polluted areas have an IQ that is up to seven points lower than those living in places with cleaner air.

CAUSE CHILDREN TO HAVE POORER MEMORY: Researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health found boys exposed to greater levels of PM2.5 in the womb  performed worse on memory tests by the time they are 10.

DELAY THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHILDREN: Youngsters who live less than one-third of a mile away from busy roads are twice as likely to score lower on tests of communication skills in infancy, found researchers at Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health in April. They were also more likely to have poorer hand-eye coordination.

MAKE CHILDREN MORE ANXIOUS: University of Cincinnati scientists claimed pollution may alter the structure of children’s brains to make them more anxious. Their study of 14 youngsters found rates of anxiety was higher among those exposed to greater levels of pollution. 

CUT YOUR CHILD’S LIFE SHORT: Children born today will lose nearly two years of their lives because of air pollution, according to a report by the US-based Health Effects Institute and the University of British Columbia in April 2019. UNICEF called for action on the back of the study.

RAISE A CHILD’S RISK OF AUTISM: Researchers at Monash University in Australia discovered youngsters living in highly polluted parts of Shanghai have a 86 per cent greater chance of developing ASD. Lead author Dr Yuming Guo said: ‘The developing brains of young children are more vulnerable to toxic exposures in the environment.’

CAUSE ASTHMA IN CHILDREN: Four million children around the world develop asthma each year because of road traffic pollution, a major study by academics at George Washington University estimated. Experts are divided as to what causes asthma – but exposure to pollution in childhood increases the risk by damaging the lungs.

MAKE CHILDREN FAT: University of Southern California experts found last November that 10 year olds who lived in polluted areas when they were babies are, on average, 2.2lbs (1kg), heavier than those who grew up around cleaner air. Nitrogen dioxide pollution could disrupt how well children burn fat, the scientists said. 

LEAVE WOMEN INFERTILE EARLIER: Scientists at the University of Modena, Italy, claimed in May 2019 that they believe pollution speeds up ageing in women, just like smoking, meaning they run out of eggs faster. This was based on them finding almost two-thirds of women who have a low ‘reserve’ of eggs regularly inhaled toxic air.

RAISE THE RISK OF A MISCARRIAGE: University of Utah scientists found in January that pregnant women are 16 per cent more likely to suffer the heartbreak of a miscarriage if they live in areas of high pollution.  

RAISE THE RISK OF BREAST CANCER: Scientists at the University of Stirling found six women working at the same bridge next to a busy road in the US got breast cancer within three years of each other. There was a one in 10,000 chance the cases were a coincidence, the study said. It suggested chemicals in the traffic fumes caused the cancer by shutting down the BRCA genes, which try to stop tumours growing. 

DAMAGE A MAN’S SPERM: Brazilian scientists at the University of Sao Paulo found in March that mice exposed to toxic air had lower counts and worse quality sperm compared to those who had inhaled clean air since birth. 

MAKE MEN LESS LIKELY TO GET SEXUALLY AROUSED: Scientists at Guangzhou Medical University in China found rats exposed to air pollution struggled to get sexually aroused. Scientists believe it may also affect men, as inhaling poisonous particles may trigger inflammation in blood vessels and starve the genitals of oxygen – affecting men’s ability to become sexually aroused.

MAKE MEN MORE LIKELY TO HAVE ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION:  Men who live on main roads are more likely to have difficulty getting an erection due to exposure to pollution, a Guangzhou University in China study suggested in February. Toxic fumes reduced blood flow to the genitals, tests on rats showed, putting them at risk of developing erectile dysfunction. 

RAISE THE RISK OF PSYCHOSIS: In March, King’s College London scientists linked toxic air to intense paranoia and hearing voices in young people for the first time. They said uncovering exactly how pollution may lead to psychosis should be an ‘urgent health priority’.

MAKE YOU DEPRESSED: Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found in January that that the more polluted the air, the sadder we are. Their study was based on analysing social media users in China alongside the average daily PM2.5 concentration and weather data where they lived.

CAUSE DEMENTIA: Air pollution could be responsible for 60,000 cases of dementia in the UK, researchers from King’s College London and St George’s, University of London, calculated last September. Tiny pollutants breathed deep into the lungs and enter the blood stream, where they may travel into the brain and cause inflammation – a problem which may trigger dementia.

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