Scientists are calling on Australian governments to provide incentives to enable households to transition away from using gas in the home because of its detrimental health effects.
- In a new report, scientists find gas use for cooking and heating produces a variety of air pollutants that affect lung health
- Because of the new findings, researchers say governments should help people make the switch to safer alternatives
- They propose incentives that would include subsidy schemes for low-income households, and want to see the introduction of new policies to ensure better ventilation of homes
Leaking methane from natural gas-burning stove tops is releasing the greenhouse-gas equivalent of hundreds of thousands of cars, and cooking on gas stovetops is posing a risk to health.
Additionally, more than three-quarters of methane emissions from stovetops are leaking into houses while the appliances are not in use.
In a newly released report from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research and the Center for Air Pollution, Energy and Health Research (CAR), scientists found gas use for cooking and heating produced a variety of air pollutants that affected lung health, especially for those with asthma.
Professor Graeme Zosky – CAR’s chief investigator and the deputy director of the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute for Medical Research – said there was evidence to show that around 12 per cent of childhood asthma could be attributed to gas cooking stoves.
“That is a huge number when we consider that Australia has around 460,000 children with asthma,” he said.
“Marketing campaigns have promoted the idea that cooking with gas is not only the most efficient way of cooking, but that gas is a clean way to cook and heat homes.
“We know there are a variety of steps people can take to minimize the risk to their health when it comes to gas use inside the home, including improved ventilation and replacing your gas appliances with electric ones.”
Asthma Australia’s policy and advocacy manager, Angela Cartwright, said children were more vulnerable to the effects of burning gas due to their small, developing lungs.
“We think it’s important to do everything we can to reduce the incidents of asthma in children and [to] give our kids better health outcomes, “she said.
“Asthma is a complex disease that has many causes but, in the case of gas stoves, it’s very clear that the nitrogen dioxide that is produced by these stoves is more harmful for kids when it comes to asthma.
“It’s really important that people are aware that gas stoves can be a problem in terms of children developing asthma, and also triggering symptoms for children who do have asthma already.”
Subsidies for low-income households
In light of the new findings, researchers said governments should help people make the switch to safer alternatives.
They proposed incentives that would include subsidy schemes for low-income households, and want to see the introduction of new policies to ensure better ventilation of homes, with a focus on social housing and rentals and the introduction of a national indoor air quality framework.
“Incentives should also be provided to allow schools, workplaces and residential aged care facilities to monitor their air quality and [to] meet these new indoor standards, “Professor Zosky said.
Ms Cartwright said the proposed incentives were a good idea.
“A lot of vulnerable households will not be able to switch easily from gas stoves to a healthier, safer alternative, like an electric or induction stove,” she said.
However, until the proposal was accepted, Ms Cartwright said, there was a range of options for people who still needed to cook with gas at home until they could switch to an alternative appliance.
“The most simple thing you can do is open windows while you’ve cooking, [and] if you have a range hood over the stove it’s absolutely critical to use it.
“Another option for some people might be that, while they’re cooking, they do not have the children in the kitchen at the same time.”
Proposal similar to wood heater buyback scheme
It is not the first time an incentive has been introduced to help reduce health impacts.
In Launceston, the city ran a buyback scheme nearly two decades ago that saw up to 2,000 wood heaters removed from the city and surrounds, but it needed $ 2 million from the federal government.
James Markos was one of the specialist doctors involved in the campaign to reduce smoke in the city.
“It’s not like you’re breathing in 20 cigarettes a day, but it’s like you’re breathing in one cigarette a day.
“And we know there’s no safe level of smoking, and we also know there’s no safe level of airborne air pollution.”
The program was ultimately effective, with air pollution falling almost 40 per cent.
Experts estimated there were 28 per cent fewer respiratory-related deaths that winter.
“Your smoke is adding to general pollution and that’s then causing ill health to the population,” Dr Markos said.
“Everybody, no matter whether you are young, old, healthy… everybody exposed to wood smoke is at risk long-term of developing lung cancer.”
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