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Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Pandemic Ponderings: Cooking with gas: fugitive emissions, indoor pollution and Covid19

This article was originally published at my Linked In Blog on June 10, 2020.

Why I transitioned from cooking with gas to an electric magnetic resonance induction cooktop, a story about gas, fugitive emissions, indoor pollution and now the Covid19 virus.

One of the incidents in 2017 that started me on this whole journey was smelling a gas leak in my front yard. I called the gas company and when they attended, sure enough a leak was detected on the network side of my connection. They fixed the leak. This is fugitive emissions adding methane to the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20 year timeframe. These leaks are ocurring throughout the distribution network.

In May 2017 I made the transition to induction cooking. The cooktop cost $1350 (on sale). I had to get a gas fitter (plumber) to uninstall the gas cooktop and plug the gas connection where it enters my property ($250), and then get an electrician to install the cooktop. This required separate electric cabling to the fuse box, and a masterswitch for the cooktop on the wall.

As I had some aluminium cookware I had to pass these to the opshop, and bought a set of magnetic stainless steel cookware. The Cast iron pot I had also still worked. Hint: Take a fridge magnet to the shop to test pots/frypans for being magnetic when buying.

I had already converted my gas hot water system to electric boosted solar storage hot water, so after the cooktop was changed over I could cancel my gas bill. Now I only have an electricity bill to deal with and one lot of service fees, so this simplification was worthwhile.

The gas network produces fugitive emissions at every stage: from extraction (gas wells), processing, distribution (including local suburban gas pipes). These emissions are likely grossly under-estimated, making gas possibly worse than coal as a fuel in terms of climate emissions.

The Australia Institute have assessed gas fugitive emissions reporting and argue unaccounted emissions could cause Paris Target Failure.

My action to transition from gas to electric has eliminated my personal participation in fugitive emissions and their contribution to climate change.

Meanwhile the Labor State Government during this pandemic are moving to lift the current onshore gas moratorium, and open up offshore gas exploration. This is incompatible with limiting fossil fuel expansion necessary to meet Paris targets. Read the 2015 research by Ekins and McGlade: The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C

Health Impacts of gas cooktop indoor pollution

Eliminating gas also reduces household particulate and gas pollutants. And in a time of pandemic with the SARS-CoV2 virus this is an important action for reducing risk of infection.

Given the pandemic, we should take note of this indoor pollution which likely upregulates ACE2 receptors in our bodies which the SARS-CoV2 virus uses to infect us.

So what are the pollutants from a gas cooktop?

This research from California in 2013 highlights the level and components of pollution which can affect our health: Pollutant Exposures from Natural Gas Cooking Burners: A Simulation-Based Assessment for Southern California.

"Gas cooking burners emit air pollutants that can affect residential indoor air quality and increase health risks. Emitted pollutants include nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and formaldehyde (HCHO).

"At elevated ambient concentrations, NO2 has been associated with exacerbation of asthma (Hajat et al. 1999) and an increase in daily deaths (Touloumi et al. 1997). At higher concentrations, NO2 has been associated with increased sensitivity to allergens in patients with asthma (Tunnicliffe et al. 1994). Increased indoor NO2 concentrations from gas cooking have been associated with adverse health effects such as wheezing and decreased respiratory function (Jarvis et al. 1998)."

Jonathan Grigg, Professor of paediatrics at Queen Mary University of London, presented research as part of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution report launch on 29 May, showing air pollution increases vulnerability to SARS-CoV-2 infection, highlighting a biological link between air pollution and the virus using the ACE2 receptor. Research shows ACE2 expression was increased by PM10.

Read the UK report on AIR QUALITY STRATEGY TO REDUCE CORONAVIRUS INFECTION (PDF) by All Party Parliamentary Group Air Pollution (June 2020), which reflects that indoor pollution sources should be reduced to reduce infection risk (Recommendation 9)

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There was media coverage of the UK report launch on Covid19 and air pollution by Damian Carrington of The Guardian: Cut air pollution to help avoid second coronavirus peak, MPs urge (29 May). An earlier article asked Is air pollution making the coronavirus pandemic even more deadly? (4 May)

Latest Preliminary research by Italian environmental scientists have shown that the virus has been found on PM10 air pollution particles.

"SARS-CoV-2 RNA can be present on outdoor particulate matter, thus suggesting that, in conditions of atmospheric stability and high concentrations of PM, SARS-CoV-2 could create clusters with outdoor PM and, by reducing their diffusion coefficient, enhance the persistence of the virus in the atmosphere." say the researchers in a article to be published in Environmental Research: SARS-Cov-2 RNA Found on Particulate Matter of Bergamo in Northern Italy: First Preliminary Evidence.

Update 9 December 2020

Excellent article on Why experts are sounding the alarm about the hidden dangers of gas stoves by Jonathon Mingle published at Undark on 2 February 2020, republished 4 December 2020 at Quartz. Highlights the connection between gas cooktops, asthma and respiratory illness.

One of the clearest signals emerging in the scientific literature is the connection between cooking with gas and childhood asthma—a disease suffered by people of color and lower-income groups at much higher rates than the rest of the population. A 2013 meta-analysis of 41 studies found that children living in homes with gas stoves had a 42% higher risk of experiencing asthma symptoms, and, over their lifetime, a 24% increase in the risk of being diagnosed with asthma. That study confirmed, in turn, what a 1992 meta-analysis found: Children exposed to higher levels of indoor NO2 (at an increment “comparable to the increase resulting from exposure to a gas stove”) had an elevated risk of respiratory illness. More recently, a 2018 study from the University of Queensland found that in Australia, where 38% of households rely on gas stoves for cooking, more than 12% of the total burden of childhood asthma was attributable to their use.



  • McGlade, C., & Ekins, P. (2015). The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C. Nature, 517(7533), 187–190. doi:10.1038/nature14016

  • Setti, L., Passarini, F., De Gennaro, G., Barbieri, P., Perrone, M.G., Borelli, M., Palmisani, J., Di Gilio, A., Torboli, V., Fontana, F., Clemente, L., Pallavicini, A., Ruscio, M., Piscitelli, P., Miani, A., SARS-Cov-2RNA Found on Particulate Matter of Bergamo in Northern Italy: First Evidence, Environmental Research,

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