New documents are shining a light on the gas utility industry, which has been found holding a smoking gun. Or, more accurately, a page from the book written by the tobacco industry.
An investigation by NPR, along with documents uncovered in a new report from the Climate Investigations Center — a research and watchdog group — have revealed that for the last 50-plus years, the gas industry has employed Big Tobacco-style tactics to successfully undermine the links between gas stoves and respiratory illness.
In the late ‘60s, natural gas utilities launched “Operation Attack,” an ambitious marketing campaign to get more gas stoves into people’s kitchens. However, as the campaign gained speed, concerns about indoor pollution from the stoves — like household nitrogen dioxide levels — were becoming public.
The documents show that natural gas utilities and the American Gas Association convinced consumers and regulators that cooking with gas is as safe as electricity despite growing evidence that this is not the case.
NPR reports that as evidence mounted, the gas industry turned to tactics effectively used by tobacco companies to avoid stricter regulations.
Now that the tactic and its effects have been made clear, experts are calling for a change. Dr. Bernard Goldstein, professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, who researched gas stoves, nitrogen dioxide, and indoor air quality in the ‘70s told NPR, “I think it’s way past the time that we were doing something about gas stoves. It has taken almost 50 years since the discovery of negative effects on children of nitrogen dioxide from gas stoves to begin preventive action. We should not wait any longer.”
Why is the CIC report concerning?
The gas industry’s tactics 50 years ago generated doubt that affected policymaking around protecting people’s health at the Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Product Safety Commission, which still have effects today, including possibly hindering efforts to regulate nitrogen dioxide pollution standards for indoors.
Further, natural gas is composed of methane — a gas at least 28 times more powerful at warming Earth than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period — which is leaked into the environment at every step of the process from pipeline to burner, contributing to rising global temperatures, as NPR reports.
What can be done about it?
In light of the new information and the truth of the risks of gas stoves, NPR points out that a new opportunity has arisen for policymakers and regulators to take action free of misinformation.
Individually, electric or induction stoves are great alternatives that don’t release the toxic gases we now know gas stoves create.
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