Research shows gas cooktops and heaters can be a significant source of indoor air pollution that impacts the human body including the respiratory system, just under half of all Aussie homes use gas for cooking.
Gas cooktops are known to produce contaminants that increase the risk of childhood asthma: in particular, nitrogen dioxide and certain forms of particulate matter, like PM2.5. Like other airborne emissions, these emissions can irritate the airways and trigger asthma symptoms.
What’s more, these substances are invisible and mostly odourless, making them hard to detect or recognise as a threat to your health.
Gas cooking compared to smoking indoors
Evidence provided in a report from the Climate Council has found the effect of gas cooking in the home is comparable to the effect of smoking indoors on childhood asthma.
Gas use in the home estimated to be responsible for up to 12 percent of the childhood asthma burden in Australia.
For children, asthma can mean expensive treatments, missing days off school, and being excluded from many activities, there is also the risk of more serious consequences.
People can take steps to reduce their risks by increasing ventilation, such as modern extraction fans over gas stoves, flues for gas heaters, and simple measures like opening windows. However, this won’t eliminate the risk completely.
If an extraction fan is old or hasn’t been serviced – it can actually cause more harm by simply pushing the pollution around your home, rather than taking it outside.
As an alternative, induction stoves are very high-performing and are superior to both gas and electric stoves.
You can read our blog on kicking the gas habit for more ways to safely manage gas and asthma.
Unflued Gas Heaters at home and in NSW Schools
Gas heaters, particularly unflued heaters (no extraction flue from the heater to outside), produce high levels of indoor nitrogen dioxide, an indoor air pollutant that affects the human respiratory system including asthma.
Ventilation is key to reducing this risk but cannot eliminate it completely.
New South Wales is the only state in Australia to still use unflued gas heaters in public schools. In July 2020, it was reported to the State Parliament that unflued gas heaters were still in use in the majority of New South Wales public schools. These same heaters have been phased out in all other parts of the country due to health impacts on children.
A study carried out by the CSIRO at Blackheath Public School in 2009 showed that one in three classrooms with unflued gas heaters had levels of indoor air pollution that exceeded World Health Organization guidelines. These heaters cause increased asthma symptoms (cough and wheeze) in atopic children, exposing children to air pollution in a place they are supposed to learn and prosper. In the home, gas heaters can have a similar effect on health, particularly if not well ventilated.
Gas extraction, production, and health impacts
Gas extraction and processing involve many hazardous substances including those that may cause cancer, interfere with hormones, trigger asthma and contaminate the local environment through airborne pollution and wastewater.
A study from Pennsylvania published in 2018 – which covered the period 2003-2014, showed children faced a 25% greater risk of being hospitalised for asthma during the 3-month period when a (gas) well was drilled.
In Australia, The Surat Basin (spans Darling Downs in Queensland to Central New South Wales) is home to coal seam gas reserves and production and is home to many communities.
The health impacts of coal seam gas production have been a concern in these communities since the industry arrived. Despite Queensland Health finding no clear links to poorer health outcomes. A series of studies on hospitalisation rates from 1995-2011 found a higher likelihood of some health conditions in those living near coal seam gas reserves when compared to those living in regional areas without coal seam gas, these included:
- neoplasms (tumours)
- blood/immune disease
- significant increase in hospitalisation for respiratory diseases in children
For more information about gas extraction please read the ‘Kicking the Gas Habit’ report released 6/5/21.