A nitrogen dioxide monitor sits next to a gas stove in a River Terrace home during an air quality test. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
A nitrogen dioxide monitor sits next to a gas stove in a River Terrace home during an air quality test. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

The usually uncontroversial Consumer Product Safety Commission sparked the newest culture war fire with an announcement this week about its continued plans to explore new regulations on gas stoves.

Michelle Hall, a River Terrace resident and organizer with Washington Interfaith Network, reads extremely high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide in her kitchen on a monitoring device.

One commissioner told Bloomberg Monday that a ban on the appliances might be on the table, but the agency walked back that statement two days later amid scorching backlash from right-wing media and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“This is a recipe for disaster,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) tweeted on Tuesday. “The federal government has no business telling American families how to cook their dinner.”

The conversation about gas stoves erupted suddenly on the national level, but locally, community organizers and city officials had already begun focusing attention on the appliances. Decades of evidence link gas stove use, which emits nitrogen dioxide and other gasses, to childhood asthma. That has particular significance in the District, where almost 16,000 children and adolescents had asthma in 2020, more than 70% of whom were Black. 

“When you turn on your gas oven, and you see this faint blue flame, you have no idea that it’s emitting nitrogen dioxide,” said Teresa Hobgood, an advocate with the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN). “We are not at all trying to convey to people that they need to get rid of their gas stoves. But we want people to be educated.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission first announced that it would consider adding health regulations on gas stoves in mid-December. That announcement followed the publication of a new peer-reviewed study, which found that one in eight childhood asthma cases in the U.S. can be attributed to gas stove use. One 2013 analysis found that children in households with gas stoves were 42% more likely to experience asthma. 

Hobgood and other WIN advocates, along with a coalition of other local groups, began doing indoor air quality tests in August. The coalition checks the concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) that accumulates in DMV residents’ kitchens while a gas oven and stove tops run. 

“We have measured NO2 levels in more than 50 apartments in my complex when gas stoves are on,” said Adama Moussa Harouna, who leads the tenants’ association at Cider Mill Apartments in Montgomery Village, in a text message. “Many, many of them have higher levels of NO2 than the EPA recommended level for outdoors. Most of these apartments have children living in them, some with asthma. Gas stoves are a silent killer. It is something that we didn’t know about, but it is a real concern.”

Advocates from WIN and other groups in the Beyond Gas coalition have begun to reach District lawmakers’ ears. Council member Charles Allen, who now heads the environment and transportation committee, introduced a bill last council period that would offer free electric replacements for gas appliances to 30,000 low-income households by 2040. The local legislation would use federal funding from climate change measures Congress passed last year, which included rebates of up to $840 for homeowners to replace gas stoves with electric ones. 

But that bill remains far from final passage — it will need to be reintroduced, starting the legislative process from the beginning, in the new council term. Meanwhile, more than 60% of D.C. homes use gas cooking appliances. That poses not only a health issue but an environmental one, too — gas appliances run on methane, a fossil fuel that causes even faster climate change damage than carbon. 

District lawmakers have taken steps to address that problem, too. In July, the D.C. Council passed legislation that will prohibit the use of fossil fuels in new commercial buildings (which include residences with four or more stories) starting in 2027. Unlike many other cities that have passed bans on gas, D.C.’s new rule will include a prohibition on new gas stoves. That does not mean existing gas stoves will ever require removal, though. 

“This isn’t going to be a situation where it’s going to be illegal for someone who has a gas stove in their home to continue to use it,” Hobgood said. “But we’re talking about a health issue, and it’s important to us that that information be conveyed.”

Kayla Benjamin

Covers climate change & environmental justice for the Informer as a full-time reporter through the Report for America program. Prior to her time here, she worked at Washingtonian Magazine writing stories...

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