Indoor Air Quality High on Fright Factor, Low on Actual Findings

Proponents of restricting consumer choice continue to use flawed methodology and scare tactics to convince the public gas stoves are a danger.

The latest effort is a study conducted by researchers from Stanford University that has released similarly flawed research on gas stoves previously.

When put under scrutiny, the studies are not as thoroughly researched as early reporting makes them out and authors are often made to nuance their statements. It is a distract and correct post headline strategy. Here’s a few key things to keep in mind when reading the study:

Fact 1: The research team sealed (some of) the kitchens in plastic tarps. Again.

The topline finding of the report that gas and propane stoves and ovens emit harmful levels of benzene comes from calculating benzene emission rates in kitchens using an 87-home sample size. But to get to this conclusion researchers use plastic sheeting to create an unreal testing environment unlike any functional kitchen.

The almost comical layout was used in Stanford’s earlier indoor air quality study and was recently criticized by Vice-Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), who said such methodology didn’t make for a realistic test environment for homeowners, while studies in actual homes in real life conditions found indoor air pollution well below the EPA standard.

Oddly enough, researchers didn’t use this tarp method on all of the kitchens. In fact, in the scariest scenario – benzene concentrations in a person’s bedroom – six kitchens were unsealed and only two utilized any ventilation or active air circulation.

Fact 2: Benzene measurements were compared to the wrong health standard.

From this 87-home sample size, only 17 homes are used to measure benzene concentrations in air, including the six homes used to measure benzene concentrations in the bedroom. In their subset of data, researchers yet again compared their findings to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQs) and California Ambient Air Quality Standards (CAAQS). However, a recent report published by Catalyst Environmental Solutions (CES) and commissioned by the California Restaurant Association and the California Building Industry Association notes that:

“It is important to understand that while AAQS can perhaps provide a reference point, they are not applicable to the evaluation of indoor air quality and associated health-based impacts.”

In effect, the Ambient Air Quality standards referred to in this new report are “merely being used as points of reference and do not indicate adverse health effects.”

This context seemingly fell by the wayside in their new study, but was mentioned in a webinar following the publication of their last Benzene study, where researchers were sure to call their work a “hazard identification study” that “did not measure exposure” or possible exposure routes.

Fact 3: Emissions from gas stoves are below California health standards.

Half of the six homes included in the bedroom measurements were below the California 8-hour health standard. Meanwhile, the duration of time that House 3 spends in compliance increases when the national health standard (1.6 ppbv) is applied, and the other home using a gas stove (House 1) is an outlier with peak emissions 23 times higher than baseline concentrations.

The rationale in selecting these six homes is not discussed in the report, nor are the specifics of the homes and appliances tested clarified in the report. Readers are only provided with information on the entire 87-home sample, which includes stoves between three to 75-years-old, and outliers with substantially higher emission rates across the age and brands of the stoves.

Fact 4: Study was funded by interests bankrolling the “ban gas stoves” campaign.

Notably, this latest Stanford study was funded by the High Tide Foundation, a nonprofit that is listed as an RMI “Hero” donor because it gave the organization at least $1 million last year.

RMI has been heavily involved in the creation and dissemination of research that attempts to characterize gas stoves as dangerous. It was RMI that released a January study alleging 13 percent of childhood asthma cases nationwide could be blamed on indoor use of gas stoves to national headlines, only to, days later, admit quietly to the Washington Examiner that the think tank’s study “does not assume or estimate a causal relationship’ between childhood asthma and natural gas stoves.

Nonetheless, the Stanford study cites RMI’s previously questioned findings, making no mention of the fact the organization downplayed its claims of a causal relationship between childhood asthma and gas stoves.

This latest research was conducted by the same authors of a June 2022 study, where they made a conscious effort in a webinar to clarify that the presence of volatile organic compounds – Benzene – were found to be in such small concentrations that there is no cause for immediate concern.

Bottom Line: This latest research may use a large dataset in an attempt to give more credibility to findings, but at a closer appearance it’s the same playbook of using flawed tactics and limited sampling to push anti-consumer choice agenda.

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