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A lawsuit accuses a gas stove manufacturer of failing to warn consumers about pollution risks

The burners on gas stoves release pollutants including nitrogen dioxide, a key element in smog that can irritate airways and may contribute to the development of asthma, <a href="https://www.epa.gov/no2-pollution/basic-information-about-no2">according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency</a>
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The burners on gas stoves release pollutants including nitrogen dioxide, a key element in smog that can irritate airways and may contribute to the development of asthma, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

A consumer watchdog group is suing a manufacturer of gas stoves for allegedly failing to warn people that its appliances can produce harmful air pollution.

On Thursday, the United States Public Interest Research Group Education Fund sued a company called Haier U.S. Appliance Solutions in the District of Columbia Superior Court. It says the manufacturer is violating a consumer protection law in Washington, D.C., that prohibits “deceptive and unconscionable business practices.” Haier bought General Electric’s GE Appliances business in 2016.

The burners on gas stoves release pollutants including nitrogen dioxide, a key element in smog that can irritate airways and may contribute to the development of asthma, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Researchers at Stanford University recently found that cooking with gas and propane stoves may be contributing to the deaths of approximately 19,000 adults in the United States annually, as well as around 200,000 current cases of childhood asthma. Stanford University researchers have also found that gas stoves can emit benzene, which is linked to cancer.

“There's a growing body of evidence that cooking with gas poses real health risks for everyone, and particularly for children. And nobody's doing anything about it, unfortunately, in terms of policy,” says Abe Scarr, program director for energy and utilities at the United States Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.

The watchdog group says it tested two models of GE Appliances gas stoves this year and found that they produced nitrogen dioxide pollution that exceeded standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for outdoor air. The EPA does not have standards for indoor nitrogen dioxide levels.

A spokesperson for GE Appliances did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on Thursday.

The watchdog group wants Haier to warn D.C. consumers that GE Appliances gas stoves produce harmful air pollutants, and to provide information about how people can protect themselves.

Medical experts recommend people open windows and use exhaust fans when they’re cooking with gas stoves indoors.

“Much more needs to be done to give consumers factual, accurate information about the risks of cooking with gas, and what they can do to mitigate those risks,” Scarr says.

Last year, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission asked the public for information about the “chronic hazards” associated with gas stoves, as well as potential solutions.

Environmentalists who are pushing to limit climate change have tried to leverage the growing health concerns about cooking with gas to build support for eliminating the use of gas in buildings. Colorado-based RMI's building electrification webpage prominently features a report on gas stoves.

An industry group called the American Gas Association (AGA) says residential gas stoves are a “minor source” of nitrogen dioxide. And it notes that no federal agencies have chosen to regulate the appliances for indoor air emissions.

Asked about the Haier lawsuit, Emily Carlin, a spokesperson with the AGA, pointed to a study that found the risk of asthma from cooking with gas "was potentially exaggerated" in studies that didn't give enough consideration to other possible factors, like exposure to tobacco smoke and outdoor air pollution.

The study that the AGA cited did find that cooking with gas, rather than electricity, results in "a small or modest increase in risk" for pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The gas utility industry, including the AGA, worked for years to convince consumers and regulators that cooking with gas is as safe as cooking with electricity, according to an investigation by NPR and documents uncovered by the Climate Investigations Center, a research and watchdog group.

Reporting by NPR found that industry-backed research generated doubt and controversy over the health effects of stoves that affected policymaking around protecting people's health.

Presented last year with NPR’s findings, Karen Harbert, the AGA’s chief executive, said there is not “sufficient or consistent evidence demonstrating chronic health hazards from natural gas ranges.”

Scarr says the lawsuit that his organization filed against Haier could set a national precedent.

“Hopefully, this would lead to much more widespread consumer notice about the risks of operating a gas stove,” he says.

Lawmakers in California are considering legislation that would require labels on gas stoves warning that they can release harmful air pollutants.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Michael Copley
Michael Copley is a correspondent on NPR's Climate Desk. He covers what corporations are and are not doing in response to climate change, and how they're being impacted by rising temperatures.