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Cooking Can Cause Indoor Air Pollution That’s Worse Than What The EPA Allows Outdoors

Label this under true and surprising facts; Cooking with gas can be bad for your health. Cooking with electricity can also be bad for your health, but not as bad as gas.

I can understand how a charred pepper might cause some indoor air pollution, but I never thought twice about the delicious smell of sauteed onions coming from my gas range or the “vapors” coming from the gas flame as an issue. Berkley Lab recently did some analysis on this topic. Turns out, there are some issues.

  • Cooking with gas releases nasties like carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde and fine particles into the air which can cause respiratory problems.
  • Cooking with electricity is better because it releases fewer dangerous gases since there is no flame, but it’s not perfect because it too can release fine particles into the air.

Big deal, right? After all, I’ve never heard or any problems or experienced any myself. It turns out that Berkeley Lab did a study in which they found that the health issues related to cooking and poor indoor air quality are on the scale of health issues caused by traffic accidents or infectious diseases in the US.

They looked at homes in California and found that 60 percent of people who cooked at least once a week with gas had indoor air quality that was worse than the outdoor pollution levels allowed by the EPA.

So, What do you do? When you cook, Berkely Lab recommends the following:

  • Turn on the hood every time you cook, and set the fan to the highest setting that the noise is tolerable.
  • Make sure it vents to the outdoors. If it doesn’t, the hood will simply recirculate air in the kitchen.
  • If your range hood does not extend over the front burners, cooking on the back burners could make the hood up to twice as effective at removing pollutants.
  • If buying a new hood, it should cover your front burners and have a setting that moves at least 200 cubic feet of air per minute.
  • If having a range hood is not possible, opening a window while cooking does help.

Cooking with gas causes more pollution than cooking with electricity, but a lot of people just prefer cooking with gas. I know I do. There is an alternative called induction cooking. It’s a very different way of cooking that uses the power of magnets to heat your food. I don’t have an induction cooktop so I can’t give you my very own user opinion, but it you do a little surfing on the topic, you are likely to find people who love induction cooking.

The pros of induction cooking are numerous, including:

  • Lower pollution levels
  • energy efficiency
  • cooks faster than gas or standard electric

The big downside for people seems to be in the cookware. The pans should be flat bottomed and ferrous, meaning a magnet will stick to them. Stainless steel and cast iron reportedly work well. Price is also an issue, induction ranges are easily over $1,000. Induction is for the serious cook, and gas ranges that might appeal to good cooks are also in this price neighborhood.

Ventilation can only solve part of the problem, the best solution is to eliminate the source of the pollution as much as possible. Going the route of electric cooking eliminates many of the issues, and adding appropriate range hood ventilation will help.