The Health Implications of Indoor Pollution, Electrification, and Decarbonization

What causes indoor pollution?

Gas stovetops, furnaces, and water heaters use natural gas to operate. In the process, these appliances create indoor pollution by emitting harmful air pollutants that can cause a number of detrimental health effects.

For example, gas cooking stoves release carbon monoxide (CO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), PM2.5, and formaldehyde (CH2O or HCHO) — sometimes, at levels higher than we deem acceptable in the outdoors. This can cause many health dangers, among them:

  • Respiratory problems (e.g., asthma)
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Reduced cognitive performance
  • Cardiovascular illness
  • Diabetes
  • Poor birth outcomes
  • Nervous system damage
  • Premature mortality
  • Cancer

Vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly, low-income families, and Black or brown communities, are at an especially high risk of experiencing these health dangers. Smaller homes are more likely to have more concentrated levels of indoor air pollutants due to minimal air space, and low-income housing near freeways and other industrial sites face greater exposure to nitrogen oxides (e.g., NO, NO2). Low-income families cannot easily retrofit their homes with electric alternatives, often because they live in rented apartments and rely on their landlord to make retrofits. Protective measures can vary in their ability to effectively vent air outdoors: Some exhaust hoods installed above stoves don’t properly vent to the outdoors, or they have dirty, blocked-up filters.

Overall, residential and commercial buildings contribute about 13% of all US greenhouse gas emissions.

How can electrification and decarbonization help mitigate indoor pollution?

“Electrification” refers to the process of replacing technologies that use fossil fuels with technologies that use electricity. This can decrease the amount of harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in our atmosphere and contribute to the process of “decarbonizing” our economy. 

By moving us away from having to rely on fossil fuels, electrification and decarbonization mitigate the impacts of climate change. Methane, the main component of the natural gas used in our gas-powered appliances, is extracted from shale using environmentally-dangerous methods such as fracking — a process that we can avoid as we shift to clean energy.

What can I do to reduce the risks of indoor pollution?

Ventilate your home. Whenever you use your gas stove, open nearby windows and turn on fans to circulate air until you are done cooking. If your stove comes equipped with an exhaust hood, turn it on. You can also examine the exhaust fan to clean it or check if the filter needs replacing.

For a long-term solution, look into replacing your gas stove with an electric or induction stovetop — these are the best options for creating a clean-energy household that minimizes negative health impacts. Replacing a gas stove with an electric stove has shown to decrease median nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations by 51% in the kitchen.

On an individual level, you can contribute to decarbonization efforts by replacing gas-powered appliances in your home with energy-efficient electric appliances, and encourage others to do the same. On a collective level, you can join environmental justice organizations that are advocating for policies that support decarbonization, working to ensure that electrification costs aren’t passed down to renters, and developing community engagement strategies to raise awareness.

Additional Resources

Building Electrification, Climate, and Health: An Advocacy Toolkit

Video: Gas in Your Home & Its Health Impacts

L.A.’s 2019 Green New Deal

Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles (PSR-LA) places health and equity at the center of public policy. For over 40 years, we have elevated the trusted voices of health care professionals to support transformative, community-led movements for environmental justice and nuclear disarmament. Our programs equip doctors, nurses, public health workers, allied health care professionals and students with the tools they need to successfully advocate for policies that foster healthier, stronger communities across Southern California and beyond.

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