Federal officials are considering a request from environmental, public health and public housing activists asking that they remove gas stoves from properties that are supported by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Citing concerns about climate change and adverse health effects that have been linked to exhaust from the stoves, advocates asked HUD officials to remove the appliances, which have been found to emit carbon monoxide and other harmful pollutants into the air, even when not in use.
In an email to Inside Climate News, a HUD spokesperson said the agency is aware of the request and is studying “how it might intersect with opportunities to renovate HUD-assisted properties.”
Should federal officials honor the request, it would affect roughly 1 million people who live in public housing units that HUD oversees.
“It is encouraging—I know that electrification and reconciling a lot of the health hazards that are in HUD-assisted housing is high on HUD’s priority list,” said Danielle Replogle, staff attorney for Public Health Law Center, one of the lead groups that drafted the letter to HUD.
“Our major concern is just that we don’t want people who are in public housing to be left behind,” Replogle said. “You know, it’s almost a million people and they also deserve a safe place to live.”
This effort is part of a larger push to reexamine the use of the appliances. The American Public Health Association is expected to release a formal statement about gas stoves and how stoves are a public health concern and increase the risk of illness in children, older adults and people with underlying health concerns. The statement, which was approved at a November meeting and will be released in January, will talk about the need for increased awareness of indoor air pollution from gas stoves in the public health community and also detail strategies to improve health outcomes and equity.
A county in Maryland passed a law this week that will eventually eliminate fossil fuels in almost all new buildings. Most of the new construction in Montgomery County—the state’s most populous county, on Washington, D.C.’s northern border—–will be fully electric by 2026.
In the letter, supporters said children make up a disproportionate share of public housing residents, and are more susceptible than adults to respiratory ailments such as asthma. Black, Puerto Rican and Indigenous children, in particular, are more likely to suffer from asthma than white children.
Removing gas stoves, the advocates said, could help impact the health of all residents, pointing to a recent study that has shown that most gas stoves continuously leak unburned gas that has carcinogenic pollutants that degrade the air quality inside a home.
One pediatrician said it’s important to consider not only what gas stoves are doing to the environment inside a home, but also the environment outside a home.
“Gas stoves leak methane gas, which is a really potent greenhouse gas that’s making climate change worse. Climate change in turn drives a lot of our allergy and asthma problems,” said Lisa Patel, deputy executive director of the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health. “So all of these things are really linked in terms of health and that’s why I look at getting rid of gas stoves as being an important individual action to improve a person’s immediate health, but then a long term action that we can take to improve community health and global health to stop the process of climate change.”
Then there’s nitrogen dioxide. The letter said gas cooking appliances regularly cause indoor pollution levels that “severely exceed indoor air quality standards.” Not only is it a known contributor to asthma, but children who are exposed before birth are found to have impared IQ, behavioral issues, lower cognitive outcomes and are at greater risk of developing ADHD, according to the request. It also mentioned that adults who are exposed have increased instances of cardiovascular disease and Covid-19 mortality.
Patel said lower income communities of color have contributed the least to climate change and yet suffer the worst effects from it.
She said if “we can ensure that in public housing we are creating the safest, the most healthy environments for the very families that are bearing the burden of climate change, it is absolutely the right thing to do.”
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Russell Taylor, who lives in a federally assisted apartment in New York City and is a member of Manhattan-based WE ACT for Environmental Justice, joined the effort to change HUD’s policies on gas stoves after reading studies about the potential harms of the appliances.
“We follow the science and we see what carbon is doing to our environment,” said Taylor, who has a gas stove in his home and worries about whether or not the appliances in public housing are making him and his neighbors sick. “I want to be futuristic. If we can do our work now to move us into that future where we live in balance with nature, then I am all for any initiative to improve our daily lives and mitigate these environmental and climate conditions.”
Yuwa Vosper, a policy and regular manager with WE ACT for Environmental Justice, said the appeal to HUD officials was meant to ensure that the millions who rely on federally-assisted housing do not suffer adverse health effects because of conditions largely beyond their control.
“Homes are a refuge, a sanctuary—not a health hazard,” Vosper said. “You don’t want to feel uncomfortable in your home or you don’t have to worry about what’s in your home. And the petition to HUD would ensure that they’re doing the best they can within feasibility to ensure that all residents in public housing are safe, that their environmental justice concerns are met, that they are living in a quality environment.”
One researcher, Gary Adamkiewicz, said he’s studied potential health harms in public housing for nearly 11 years and was struck by the threat posed by gas stoves.
“Anytime you burn a fuel, you likely emit pollutants that can affect your health,” said Adamkiewicz, who’s an associate professor of environmental health and exposure disparities at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
One of those pollutants, he said, is nitrogen dioxide, which has been linked to cardiovascular problems and increased instances of asthma attacks.
“We actually have laws that limit the levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air in our cities,” Adamkiewicz said. “And we’ve done studies that have shown that people’s households can exceed these levels within their own homes, basically just by using their gas stove.”
Adamkiewicz said one study he conducted found that, during the winter months, about 40 percent of public housing kitchens in Boston that he sampled exceeded the outdoor standard for nitrogen dioxide.
“So in other words, we’re putting in all this effort to regulate nitrogen dioxide as an outdoor air pollutant. Meanwhile, in someone’s own kitchen, it can be pretty common to exceed those levels,” he said.
Adamkiewicz conducted another study that found nitrogen dioxide levels fell by 66 percent when families moved from public housing with gas stoves into so-called “green public housing” that uses electric stoves and other environmentally-friendly appliances and features.
Given the age of the nation’s public housing stock, Adamkiewicz said, federal officials have a responsibility to change to electric stoves.
“We still have public housing that exists that was built 50, 60, 70 years ago. A lot of that housing is in need of upgrade, is in need of refurbishment,” he said. “And I think it’s a good time to think about making sure that those places are healthy.”