In 1976, beloved chef, cookbook creator and tv personality Julia Child returned to WGBH-TV’s studios in Boston for a brand new cooking show, “Julia Child & Company,” following her hit series “The French Chef.” Viewers probably didn’t know that Child’s recent and improved kitchen studio, outfitted with gas stoves, was paid for by the American Gas Association.

While this may increasingly seem to be any corporate sponsorship, we now realize it was an element of a calculated campaign by gas industry executives to increase use of gas stoves across the United States. And stoves weren’t the one objective. The gas industry desired to grow its residential market, and houses that used gas for cooking were likely also to make use of it for warmth and hot water.

The industry’s efforts went well beyond careful product placement, in line with recent research from the nonprofit Climate Investigations Center, which analyzes corporate efforts to undermine climate science and slow the continuing transition away from fossil fuels. As the middle’s study and a National Public Radio investigation show, when evidence emerged within the early Nineteen Seventies concerning the health effects of indoor nitrogen dioxide exposure from gas stove use, the American Gas Association launched a campaign designed to fabricate doubt concerning the existing science.

As a researcher who has studied air pollution for a few years – including gas stoves’ contribution to indoor air pollution and health effects – I’m not naïve concerning the strategies that some industries use to avoid or delay regulations. But I used to be surprised to learn that the multipronged strategy related to gas stoves directly mirrored tactics that the tobacco industry used to undermine and warp scientific evidence of health risks related to smoking starting within the Fifties.

The gas industry is defending natural gas stoves, that are under fire for his or her health effects and their contribution to climate change.

Manufacturing controversy

The gas industry relied on Hill & Knowlton, the identical public relations company that masterminded the tobacco industry’s playbook
for responding to research linking smoking to lung cancer. Hill & Knowlton’s tactics included sponsoring research that might counter findings about gas stoves published within the scientific literature, emphasizing uncertainty in these findings to construct artificial controversy and interesting in aggressive public relations efforts.

For example, the gas industry obtained and reanalyzed the info from an EPA study on Long Island that showed more respiratory problems in homes with gas stoves. Their reanalysis concluded that there have been no significant differences in respiratory outcomes.

The industry also funded its own health studies within the early Nineteen Seventies, which confirmed large differences in nitrogen dioxide exposures but didn’t show significant differences in respiratory outcomes. These findings were documented in publications where industry funding was not disclosed. These conclusions were amplified in quite a few meetings and conferences and ultimately influenced major governmental reports summarizing the state of the literature.

This campaign was remarkable, because the basics of how gas stoves affected indoor air pollution and respiratory health were straightforward and well established on the time. Burning fuel, including natural gas, generates nitrogen oxides: The air in Earth’s atmosphere is about 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen, and these gases react at high temperatures.

Nitrogen dioxide is understood to adversely affect respiratory health. Inhaling it causes respiratory irritation and may worsen diseases similar to asthma. This is a key reason why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established an outside air quality standard for nitrogen dioxide in 1971.

No such standards exist for indoor air, but because the EPA now acknowledges, nitrogen dioxide exposure indoors is also harmful.

More than 27 million people within the U.S. have asthma, including about 4.5 million children under age 18. Non-Hispanic Black children are two times more more likely to have asthma compared with non-Hispanic white children.

How harmful is indoor exposure?

The key query is whether or not nitrogen dioxide exposure related to gas stoves is large enough to steer to health concerns. While levels vary across homes, scientific research shows that the easy answer is yes – especially in smaller homes and when ventilation is insufficient.

This has been known for a very long time. For example, a 1998 study that I co-authored showed that the presence of gas stoves was the strongest predictor of private exposure to nitrogen dioxide. And work dating back to the Nineteen Seventies showed that indoor nitrogen dioxide levels within the presence of gas stoves could possibly be far higher than outdoor levels. Depending on ventilation levels, concentrations could reach levels known to contribute to health risks.

Despite this evidence, the gas industry’s campaign was largely successful. Industry-funded studies successfully muddied the waters, as I actually have seen over the course of my research profession, and stalled further federal investigations or regulations addressing gas stove safety.

This issue took on recent life at the tip of 2022, when researchers published a brand new study estimating that 12.7% of U.S. cases of childhood asthma – about one case in eight – were attributable to gas stoves. The industry continues to forged doubt on gas stoves’ contribution to health effects and fund pro-gas stove media campaigns.

A priority for climate and health

Residential gas use can also be controversial today since it slows the continuing shift toward renewable energy, at a time when the impacts of climate change have gotten alarmingly clear. Some cities have already moved or are considering steps to ban gas stoves in recent construction and shift toward electrifying buildings.

As communities wrestle with these questions, regulators, politicians and consumers need accurate information concerning the risks of gas stoves and other products in homes. There is room for vigorous debate that considers a variety of evidence, but I consider that everybody has a right to know where that evidence comes from.

The industrial interests of many industries, including alcohol, tobacco and fossil fuels, aren’t at all times compatible with the general public interest or human health. In my view, exposing the tactics that vested interests use to control the general public could make consumers and regulators savvier and help deter other industries from using their playbook.

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