PREPARE Study Throws Wrench In Argument That Asthmatics Need Electrification

The electrify everything movement has repeatedly claimed that Americans need to give up their natural gas stoves out of concern for health impacts, including exacerbating asthma symptoms. But a new study throws a wrench in that argument, finding that as more people stayed in their homes during the pandemic, asthma symptoms and their severity decreased.

While the PREPARE study did not zero in on impacts from gas stoves or document how many households in the study had them, more than 40 percent of U.S. households use gas stoves and the study’s findings demonstrate that the home is a safer space than previously thought and not the penultimate factor in an asthmatic’s health.

Numerous Factors Contributing to Reduction

The PREPARE study recruited black and Hispanic or Latino adults with asthma beginning in 2018 to track their asthma attacks at home, as well as the severity of symptoms before and during the COVID-19 shutdowns. Earlier hypothesis in the pandemic had highlighted asthma as a potential comorbidity, but as questionnaires were turned in, researchers found that participants were experiencing less severe asthma attacks or symptoms. In fact, researchers found a 40 percent decrease in the number of individuals suffering from asthma symptoms.

For participants, their existing home environment became a safer space than the workplace and everyday bustle, which exposed them to other respiratory viruses and irritants. If pollutants, irritants, and allergens inside the home had as much impact on asthma symptoms as previously imagined, rates of asthma attacks should have gone up during the extended stay indoors.

Full-scale electrification supporters argue that only all-electric homes are safe spaces for asthmatics, but PREPARE’s study demonstrates that there is no reason why every and any home cannot be. Even in studies touted by the electrify everything movement, there is typically a mention of the importance of ventilation and acknowledgment that most do not account for the emissions “associated with cooking oils and foods, and there are no mitigation methods for this, other than the use of ventilation devices such as range hoods,” before admitting “we do not claim that the transition to electric appliances would make a substantial difference in terms of emissions from cooking oils and food.

Focusing on ventilation should take priority if asthma patients are to see continued improvements in the home environment and reduced indoor air impacts caused by all manners of cooking.

Capitalizing on Fears and Feelings of Guilt

In The Atlantic’s July article concerning the study, Christopher Carroll, a pediatric-critical-care doctor at Connecticut Children’s, remarks that it’s long been routine to question parents of kids with asthma on pollutants, irritants, and allergens inside the home, but, he says “the unstated implication when you’re asking about triggers like that is that those are causes of your child’s asthma.” This narrow focus contributes to a “paternalistic attitude in medicine,” that has doctors focusing on the patient’s noncompliance with medicines and blaming patients or parents of patients, when factors outside the home might play a larger role.

Electrification advocates are capitalizing on this attitude and the existing fears of asthma patients or parents of patients to sneak their agenda into municipal councils and ban natural gas appliances from the home. In their view, electrification is the only option to reduce contributing factors to severe symptoms.

“For children who live in a home with a gas stove, the increased risk of asthma is on par with living in a home with a smoker,” said Brady Seals, RMI.

But this study makes one thing very clear: factors outside of the home are having greater impacts on asthmatics than previously considered – a fact that needs to be taken into account in decisions that use health claims to justify drastic actions like natural gas bans.

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