From Culinary Luxury to Silent Threat: The Dark Side of Gas Appliances


A young Mason enjoys a moment with his mother who taught him how to cook.

I grew up in a family devoted to the pleasure of cooking, serving, and enjoying food together! Every time my family gathers, each of us comes prepared to cook the best appetizers, main courses, and desserts we’ve tried since our last meeting. So, when I moved into my current house, I was ecstatic to find my kitchen was equipped with gas appliances. Like many people, I had been led to believe that cooking with a gas range was the epitome of luxury and the ultimate culinary tool. It never occurred to me that it's rather odd to believe that combusting fossil fuels in my kitchen enhanced my cooking experience. In retrospect, as an avid runner, I always dreaded breathing car or leaf blower exhaust. Why would I intentionally invite similar toxic emissions into the indoor air I breathe while spending time cooking in my kitchen?

Curiosity Leads to a Discovery
My whole view of gas stoves changed when I took home a Flow 2 air quality meter from the Beyond Toxics office. The Flow 2 (pictured right), is capable of measuring Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOCs). Sure, I had heard on the news that NO2 from gas stoves causes 12.7% of childhood asthma, but as an adult with healthy lungs, I didn't believe I had anything to worry about.


Flow 2 air quality meter made by Plume Labs


However, I was intrigued to collect and analyze my own data about my home’s air quality. Data gives me something concrete to look at and helps me understand what's happening around me. I eagerly unpackaged the Flow 2 meter, and followed the directions to set up the device. After two days of calibrating the device, I went to do my weekly meal prep: potato and roasted veggie breakfast burritos, a coconut milk curry with rice for lunch, and salmon with roasted brussel sprouts for dinner. Using 2-3 burners and a gas oven, I prepared my breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for the work week. I also watched in horror as the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels in my kitchen skyrocketed to levels considered dangerous for humans to breathe, both healthy people and those with compromised lungs and hearts. I promptly opened all the windows and let in as much fresh air into the house as possible. I wondered, how is this amount of air pollution legally allowed inside people’s homes? Why did I think that gas stoves were okay for public health? I showed my roommates the data and their eyes widened in shock.

Soon, I developed a regular habit of checking the Flow 2 meter everytime my roommates or I cooked. Each time I saw NO2 levels reaching concentrations ranging from unhealthy to hazardous depending on the time spent cooking and the amount of burners used. Our gas powered oven seemed especially egregious as it consistently pushed the NO2 in our house higher than when we used the stove. NO2 is not just harmful to kids and people with asthma. Long-term exposures to high levels such as what I was measuring in my own kitchen, can cause chronic lung diseases according to the Center for Disease Control.

In January I worked with my colleagues, Meet Panchal and Alyssa Rueda, to carry out a gas stove emissions pilot project in 13 houses with gas appliances in Eugene and Springfield. We wanted to see if we could consistently visualize the air pollutants commonly emitted by gas appliances. In each house, we deployed the Flow 2 meter as well as a Forward Looking InfraRed (FLIR) video camera. The FLIR camera is a professional grade camera used by the gas industry that is capable of visualizing unburned hydrocarbons such as methane, the primary ingredient in natural gas, and some specific VOCs produced by gas stoves like benzene and toluene. You can view our full report here. We detail lots of research done on gas stove pollution, our methods, findings, and some recommendations on how to improve your air quality if you have gas appliances.


Pictured above: Mason Leavitt (foreground) records invisible toxic plumes from a gas stove using a FLIR camera; Alyssa Rueda opens oven door during filming.


The Protocol
In each house we turned on a single stove top burner on at a simmer for 1-5 minutes. In houses with an oven, we preheated it to 350 degrees and then turned the oven off. This was a pilot project, so the amount and duration of gas fell short of the typical amount of pollution emitted when actually cooking a meal, which can involve multiple stove burners or heating an oven to higher temperatures. Nonetheless, the results were concerning. The camera’s footage stunned participants and staff alike.

Curiosity Leads to a Discovery
The Flow 2 measured a rising concentration of NO2, hydrocarbons and VOCs, even after turning on gas stoves and ovens. In 9 of 13 houses, an increase in NO2 was sufficient enough to result in an acute increase of asthma symptoms for kids (1). In 5 of 13 houses, the NO2 levels were considered chronically harmful for vulnerable populations such as children, elderly, people of color, or those with preexisting respiratory health conditions. In 3 of those houses, the NO2 reached levels the World Health Organization (WHO), a branch of the United Nations, concluded as harmful to every person regardless of their history with respiratory illness. One of those houses reached NO2 concentrations WHO says constitutes emergency conditions, and individuals should vacate the area, or minimize their breathing and physical activity as much as possible if they can’t leave.

The Bigger Picture
In our full report, we detail how gas ranges emit many more concerning pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter. Carrying out this case study on gas appliances and indoor air pollution has given our community the opportunity to understand the health risks of cooking with gas stoves, and the advantages of switching to electric appliances in our homes and businesses.

I encourage you to check out the report for more details, and also stay tuned to Beyond Toxics’ updates (sign up for our e-alerts) as we continue to collect data on gas stove pollution, and find tips on how to improve the safety of our kitchens and homes!

For now, I will take steps to ventilate my kitchen because, as a renter, I don’t have the choice to switch to electric appliances. In the future, I hope to live in a home that is equipped with electric kitchen appliances that I know are safe and healthy for everyone, including my family of passionate cooks.


Written by Mason Leavitt, GIS and Spatial Data Coordinator

Photos of FLIR camera testing sessions by Emily Matlock


1) Belanger, K., et al."Household Levels of Nitrogen Dioxide and Pediatric Asthma Severity."
Epidemiology, vol. 24, no. 2, 2013, pp. 320-330.

Clearing the Air: Uncovering the Risks of Gas Stove Pollution

Over the course of one work week, my colleagues on the Beyond Toxics Air Quality team and I visited 14 homes in Eugene and Springfield, toting a FLIR (Forward-Looking Infrared) camera and air quality monitoring equipment. We wanted to “see” what our naked eyes could not: what air toxics are being emitted from gas appliances.

Gas appliances emit two groups of pollutants of concern to us. One, appliances do not burn 100% of the natural gas going into them, and they release unburned methane, ethane, and butane, all of which contribute to global warming. Two, when natural gas is successfully burned, the previously mentioned pollutants turn into CO2, a major climate contributor, and PM 2.5, NO2, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other pollutants closely tied to childhood asthma and premature death in adults.


I was asked to tag along to take photos to document the process. I don’t often get to work “out in the field” with the team, so this was an exciting opportunity to work directly with the Air Quality team and learn firsthand the dangers of gas appliances.

Seeing is Believing
I was immediately taken aback by what the camera captured in the first house I visited. I didn’t know what to expect, but seeing plumes of gasses and VOCs spewing into the air was eye-opening. To be perfectly honest, I had never thought much about the use of gas in our home. As a kid, I remember when my family moved into a home with a gas stove, it felt like an upgrade. But now I’m wondering, why do we consider burning fossil fuels in our homes and polluting our indoor air to be an improvement over electricity?

FLIR camera_CROP_980px

The FLIR camera we rented for our 14-home testing tour.


The FLIR camera, often used by professionals to visualize gas leaks, reveals a plume of pollutants emerging from a preheated oven. | Photos by Emily Matlock

After visiting several homes and seeing the same toxic plumes at each, I was thankful for my electric appliances. Admittedly, I’m not much of a cook but it works just fine for my needs. By the end of the day, I had a headache, and I can only imagine it was caused by my exposure to gas and VOCs throughout the day. We simply turned on gas stoves and ovens for several minutes to capture the plumes on the FLIR camera. Imagine cooking every night for a family of four, using every burner and the oven, and inhaling the fumes for the hour or so it takes to prepare a meal.

The residents we spoke to all said similar things: I love cooking with my gas stove, but it’s not worth the risk to my health. Or, after seeing the fumes, I would switch to electric if I could.

And that’s just it, many of us don’t have the choice. My last rental home had gas appliances, but inadequate ventilation above the range. Many homeowners feel that they can’t afford to make the switch, or wouldn’t know where to start.

Choosing a Better Future
We need policy in place to ensure a climate-smart and healthy future. Eugene’s recent ordinance prohibits gas infrastructure in new, low-rise residential construction. It doesn’t take away the choice for buyers to purchase gas appliances or homes, but rather adds electrified homes that will ensure a healthier future for residents and the planet.


Our FLIR video footage reveals the presence of toxic gasses beyond the flame we can see.

The manufactured controversy of so-called “energy choice” is fraught with greenwashing from an industry that doesn’t want to lose its stronghold on a community dependent on fossil fuels. Gas industry profits are made at the expense of those of us who don’t have a choice but to pollute our homes and the environment. The gas industry touts it as “clean” and “natural,” when studies like ours with the FLIR camera clearly show high levels of pollutants and toxins entering the home.

If our study could be replicated on a larger scale, I think many Eugene residents and folks across the country would be surprised–maybe even horrified–to see plumes of unburned methane, VOCs and other toxics coming from their home appliances. Eugene’s gas ordinance is a first step, but Beyond Toxics will continue to educate and provide resources for moving toward a fossil-free future. It’s the only future that makes sense for future generations.





~ Emily Matlock,
Beyond Toxics Membership and Communications Coordinator

Read the NEW Beyond Toxics Report
Seeing is Believing: Visualizing Indoor Air Pollution from Gas Stoves (PDF)

Find out more about Building a Fossil Free Future, our climate justice campaign!


Victory for Clean Energy

NW Natural Withdraws its Hydrogen-Fracked Gas Blending Project in Eugene

Gas tap with pipeline system at natural gas station.

What does it really take to fight for non-polluting and equitable energy choices while calling out greenwashing and false solutions? Beyond Toxics made a decision to step forward to halt an ill-conceived energy project put forward by NW Natural, a corporation that makes its profits by promoting the sale and use of fracked methane gas. Our decision aligns with our environmental justice values, specifically supporting community health and fair treatment.

This October, Beyond Toxics joined with other organizations to intervene in a proposal by NW (Not-so-very) Natural to stop a $10 million project to build an experimental hydrogen-blending facility in West Eugene. Our intervenor status was approved by the Oregon Public Utilities Commission, which would need to approve NWN’s project before any proposal could proceed.

On November 1st, mere weeks after our team intervened in NW Natural’s application, the corporation formally withdrew its application. The cancellation of the methane-hydrogen blending project in West Eugene is a clear victory for community organizing! We were able to see this experimental project for what it was - greenwashing and the continuation of climate-destabilizing fossil fuel infrastructure.

It was important we took immediate action to block NW Natural’s predatory plan to use the Bethel neighborhood for the experimental project. As climate justice advocates, we want to share the facts about why hydrogen is the wrong choice for the Bethel neighborhood, and for Oregon!

The project objective was to send methane-hydrogen blended fuel into 2,273 residences in the Bethel neighborhood in West Eugene, a working class neighborhood. However, Bethel residents weren’t given a choice to opt-out, which meant the project was being forced on unsuspecting residents. As one Eugene elected official told me, “Here in Bethel, we’re their guinea pigs.” In addition to being the test subjects for this controversial project, NWN admits the costs of building out a large new fossil fuel infrastructure would be shifted to Oregon ratepayers.

That is merely the start of why this project is better dead. While NWN’s methane-hydrogen project plans are shelved for now, we are skeptical that they will remain forever buried. Should these plans come back to Lane County, the public must be armed with the knowledge of its potential negative impacts on our community.

Greenhouse Gas
Methane is the most potent greenhouse gas in the short term. Methane has twenty-one times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Yet, NWN’s $10 million “blending” project will remain 90-95% methane gas, with only 5-10% hydrogen in the blend. That minimal reduction in methane gas accomplishes next to nothing to reduce methane in the atmosphere where it will continue to swiftly affect the earth’s temperature and climate system.

Dangerously Unstable
The volatile nature of hydrogen makes sending hydrogen into homes highly risky. Hydrogen erodes metal pipes and valves, a process called Hydrogen Embrittlement. This occurs when metals become brittle as a result of introducing hydrogen into pipes and appliances. The degree of embrittlement becomes significant when it leads to cracking. Older appliances in houses may have weaknesses that make it more risky to introduce even modest amounts of hydrogen blended in with natural gas. A recent explosion of hydrogen in North Carolina seriously damaged 60 nearby homes, including making at least one home uninhabitable.

Water Usage
Technological inefficiencies along with green hydrogen’s reliance on freshwater during its production process are very worrisome, particularly because the West Eugene project would be using our drinking water from the McKenzie River. In Oregon, as well as other areas of the world, increasing drought conditions may put thirsty communities in competition with multinational hydrogen corporations for fresh water necessary for human, environmental and agricultural survival. A recent article on hydrogen in Reuters cited an Australian study estimating the upper end of water use at over 21 gallons to create one kg of hydrogen - which is equal to 1 gallon of gasoline in BTU equivalent. That’s a lot of water for very little energy.

Public Health
Blending hydrogen and methane increases emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) compared to burning methane alone. This raises the risk of NOx-associated chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma. Furthermore, if hydrogen blends cause pipe embrittlement, there may be increased health risks from carbon monoxide leaks from escaping methane gas.

Economic concerns being discussed by research firms, such Carbon Tracker (10/20/2022), have warned that up to $100 billion of “dirty” hydrogen investments – those which utilize fossil fuels as a feedstock – could become obsolete as nations move to reduce reliance on gas, particularly in light of the desire to avoid purchasing gas from Russia while it attacks Ukraine. According to Forbes Magazine (7/31/2021), “... many of the companies pushing hydrogen aren’t doing so to save the planet. They’re doing so to save their business models in a time of extreme transition towards greener technologies and e-mobility.”

It seems worthwhile to explore the possibilities for clean hydrogen in fuel cells needed for transportation (after all, hydrogen is rocket fuel) or heavy industrial uses. However, we know that blended hydrogen in homes does very little for public health or to help Oregon achieve its carbon reduction goals. NW Natural's claim that hydrogen is the pathway to “transition” away from fossil fuels for residential use is pure greenwashing. It is clear that their claims are merely a ploy to maintain the status quo for gas companies and keep us chained to fossil fuel infrastructure such as gas pipelines and appliances.

The more we learn, the more we understand that, wherever big natural gas companies peddle hydrogen blending projects, their proposals take us in the wrong direction to realistically meet climate harm reduction goals. For these reasons and more, Beyond Toxics stepped up to successfully stop this risky project. Now we can get back to the business of investing in the emissions reductions we need, and quickly, to protect health and step back from the brink of climate disaster.

Lisa Arkin,
Executive Director

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