Media trumpet study finding gas stoves impact health while ignoring studies with different results

A study finding health impacts from gas stoves received extensive media attention this week. A study published in the Lancet in February found no connection between gas stoves and childhood asthma, compared to electric stoves. The media largely ignored it.

Published: May 7, 2024 11:17pm

Updated: May 8, 2024 8:30am

Stanford researchers recently claimed to have found a link between childhood respiratory illnesses and the use of gas stoves.

The study, which was reported last week across multiple national news outlets, posed an interesting contrast to a study in February funded by the World Health Organization and published in The Lancet that found no such link and appeared to received no mention in any such outlet. 

According to the study by Stanford researchers, which was published in Science, long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide emanating from gas stoves in a home could be responsible for 50,000 cases of childhood asthma.

“One appliance has come to the fore as a source of pollutants harmful to human health: the humble gas stove,” The New York Times wrote.

The Washington Post reported the study "adds to the growing body of evidence that shows cooking with a gas stove creates indoor air pollution that can be harmful to human health."

The Guardian reported the results "also highlight the unequal racial and socioeconomic burden of exposure."

Bloomberg, The Hill, E&E News, and NBC News also ran pieces about the study.

It was a different response to a study published in February in the Lancet that analyzed the results of 116 different studies, including randomized controlled trials, case-control studies, cohort studies and cross-sectional studies.

The study was comparing health outcomes in the use of gas, wood or charcoal, and electric stoves. The researchers found that the use of gas compared to wood or charcoal resulted in reductions in a number of respiratory illnesses.

Compared with electric stoves, the study found some increases in pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but higher-quality studies, the Lancet study found, showed no significant effects.

“In addition, a small increased risk of asthma in children was not significant … and no significant associations were found for adult asthma, wheeze, cough, and breathlessness…. A significant decreased risk of bronchitis was observed,” the researchers found.

Not a single mention of the study could be found in any of the news outlets that covered the study in Science finding a link between gas stoves and illnesses.

Research to policy

Different studies often produce different results, but when it comes to research into the impacts of fossil fuels, the research has influenced policies.

In 2023, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) produced a study that found as many as 650,000 cases resulted from the use of gas stoves in the home.

Less than a month after it was published, Bloomberg interviewed Consumer Public Safety Commissioner Richard Trumka Jr. about the alleged health impacts from gas stoves, asking if the commission would take action.

Trumka told Bloomberg “Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”

The statement fueled the growing debate over banning gas stoves. Multiple media outlets ran “fact checks” insisting that there was no plan to ban gas stoves. Fox News reported last month that the Biden administration even pressured the liberal fact-checking site Snopes to rate the claim as false.

In fact, while the Biden administration didn’t pursue an outright prohibition on gas stoves, the Department of Energy pursued energy efficiency standards that would, according to the American Gas Association, ban 40%-60% of all gas stoves on the market.

On top of the federal regulations were a number of state and local regulations that sought to restrict the use of natural gas indoors as well.

“The attempts at the gas stove ban is an attempt to reduce the popularity and the consumption of natural gas in order to make way for renewables,” Tom Shepstone, an energy expert who publishes "Energy Security and Freedom" on Substack, told Just The News.

The alarm over gas stoves, however, didn’t resonate with the public.

As Steve Everley, Energy communications and public affairs with FTI Consulting, showed in a thread on X, the ruckus actually had the opposite effect.

In January 2023, a YouGov poll found a 50/50 split, with respondents' top answer being that they “strongly oppose'' a ban on gas stoves. By November 2023, an analysis of polling conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, along with the anti-fossil fuel group Rewiring America, found fewer than one-third of Americans wanted an all-electric home.

A study on the greenhouse gas emissions of liquified natural gas (LNG) also had a lot of influence over the Biden administration's pause of export permits. The study by Cornell researcher Robert Howarth, which is still undergoing peer review, found that emissions from LNG are worse than coal.

The study has been criticized for ignoring a broad scientific consensus that a switch from coal to natural gas greatly reduced U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Howarth has been long criticized for his anti-fossil fuel bias. Jon Entine, senior research fellow at the Center for Health & Risk Communication at George Mason University, claimed in a 2012 op-ed in the New York Post that Howarth had told Entine that his research into fracking is designed to further anti-fossil fuel activism. Howarth told Just The News in January that he had never said that.

However, Howarth told in February told Bloomberg: “We need to get rid of all fossil fuels as quickly as possible. Let's just move on and get rid of the gas system.”

Inside Climate News published an article Sunday in which Howarth said: “Shale gas is clearly as bad or worse than coal, no matter what industry funded people want to spin. And even if I were wrong, it’s just not the time to be promoting any fossil fuels.”

Just as Howarth’s research has been criticized for its flaws, so was the RMI study.

Critics of RMI’s gas stove study argue that the quality of the data it used was poor because it didn’t factor in findings of a 2013 by the International Study of Asthma and Allergies  which is considered the most comprehensive global study on the topic to date.

A spokesperson for RMI told the Washington Examiner in January 2023 that the study “does not assume or estimate a causal relationship” between childhood asthma and gas stoves.

The American Gas Association, an industry group, argues that the study by Stanford researchers released last week has a number of problems, including relying on two major meta-analyses that don’t support the study’s claims.

Hero donors

RMI had nearly $117 million in revenues, according to its 2022 tax filings, and the group enjoys large million-dollar donations, such as a $10 million gift in 2020 from Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ foundation, the Bezos Earth Fund.

The study by Stanford researchers was funded by “HT LLC.”

On Everley's thread on X, he suggests this is likely the High Tide Foundation, since the grant number matches that of another study by the same authors, which listed the High Tide Foundation as the funder.

Just The News reached out to the contact author of the study to confirm “HT” is High Tides and didn’t receive a response.

In 2022, High Tide Foundation was listed as a “HERO” donor, meaning it contributed over $1 million to RMI.

Shepstone said he believes that the money is what motivates the ongoing focus on natural gas. There are private foundations including Bezos Earth Fund. The Bloomberg Philanthropies, founded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, has invested $1 billion toward eliminating coal and natural gas. There is also a lot of funding from the federal government.

“Everybody wants to make money off the government. They want to milk the government rather than the cows,” Shepstone said.

Everley said on his thread that funding from a particular interest doesn’t necessarily impact the quality of the results, but it is relevant to the discussion.

There are plenty of criticisms of the anti-fossil fuel movement, and there are studies that do not find gas stoves are a serious risk to health. These don’t receive nearly the same level of media attention, and that may be related to the anti-fossil fuel groups funding media outlets.

“Just imagine if readers were provided more of an opportunity to see both sides,” Everley said.

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