Scientific studies are now proving what people with environmentally induced illness have long known. Not only is indoor natural gas use a common contributor to multiple chemical sensitivity needing medical attention, but it also contributes to respiratory illness. This is a major disappointment and disillusionment. Multinational corporations and governments told us natural gas was "the clean fuel, the healthy fuel." Yet intelligent citizens have learned to be very skeptical of the claims of those making billions of dollars purveying petrochemicals.

The founder and director of the Environmental Health Center in Dallas, Tex., William J. Rea, MD, states that, "Of 47,000 patients, the most important sources of indoor air pollution responsible for generating illness were the gas cook stoves, hot water heaters, and furnaces." (Chemical Sensitivity: Sources of Total Body Load, 1994).

Gerald Ross, MD, former president of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, writes, "Traditionally, natural gas is a pollutant chemical that can worsen both classical allergy and chemical sensitivity-[patients with complex allergies and sensitivities] will have only limited success with their treatment programs if they are living in a home that has natural gas or if they are in an area where there is natural gas transportation or leakage."

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, in their publication, The Clean Air Guide: How to Identify and Correct Indoor Air Problems in Your Home (1993), lists under chemical contaminants the "combustion gases generated by the burning of fossil fuels in gas furnaces, fireplaces, hot water heaters, wood stoves and oil furnaces." Converting to electric is recommended, as "sufficient evidence has accumulated on the negative impact on health of using open flame gas stoves."

The use of natural gas stoves is linked to asthma and other respiratory health problems. Increased risk was established for asthma attacks, waking with shortness of breath, reduced lung function and increased airway obstruction. Use of vents did not lessen the harmful effects (The Lancet, 1996).

Infants exposed to home gas heating had an increased risk of developing asthma, with gas being a more significant risk than tobacco smoke (Epidemiology, 2000).

Children living in homes with smokers or where gas stoves were used for heat were nearly twice as likely to have asthma (Pediatrics, 2001).

Individuals who used a gas stove seven or more times per week were at twice the risk of seeking emergency room treatment for asthma. There’s a significant relationship between regular gas stove use and hospitalization for asthma and urgent visits to a physician’s office. At the 65th annual scientific assembly of the American College of Chest Physicians in Chicago, 1999, Dr Mark Eisnor cautioned adults with severe asthma to avoid gas stove cooking.

"A significant adverse effect of gas stove exposure on respiratory health in children" more than doubles their risk for respiratory symptoms, including asthma. A meta-analysis of all published research in this area finds that, overall, research supporting the health safety of gas has serious statistical and/or methodological flaws (Am J Respir Crit Care Med, 1998).

Acute short-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide from single episodes of gas cooking was associated with immediate airflow limitation. Continued exposure from repeated episodes of gas cooking in asthmatic women was associated with greater use of rescue bronchodilators (Thorax, 2001).

Gas cooking generates very high concentrations of oxides of nitrogen plus more ultra-fine particles than electric cooking. Recent epidemiology suggests that cardiac effects cannot be excluded (Occup Environ Med, 2001).

Gas is toxic due to:

  • the methane itself (an asphyxiant) and gases
  • impurities (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene)
  • contaminants (radon, methylmercury, organoarsenic, organolead)
  • additives (mercaptan odourants)
  • products of combustion (nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, fine particulates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds (including formaldehyde) and hundreds of other chemicals.

Gas harms in four basic ways because:

  • ultrafine particulates irritate the respiratory system
  • particulates and toxins burden the immune system
  • overloaded systems can become hyper-sensitized
  • gas combustion generates water vapour, increasing dust mites, viruses and bacteria.

Imagine what you are breathing when you bend over a gas cook stove to stir your food or open the oven door. This toxic brew sticks to food and to clothes in gas dryers. Natural gas use indoors is a health hazard one can avoid, simply. Most importantly, do not use a gas range or stove. Avoiding other gas appliances will also lessen risk.

About the Author

David Wimberly, CanadaĆ¢??s only master flutemaker, has been an outspoken advocate of healthy and ecological alternatives for many years, He is co-manager of the Natural Gas Health Information Coalition.