Doing This While You Cook Can Slash Your Cancer Risk, New Study Shows
Your kitchen may be leaking a cancer-causing pollutant, researchers warn.
Home may be your safe haven in most regards, but experts say there's one way your house could be putting you in harm's way. Though silent, this threat is ever-present in your kitchen, and can increase your cancer risk if left unaddressed. The good news? Experts say there's something you can do to bring that risk back down; it's quick, easy, and you can do it today while you cook. Read on to learn which one change can lower your cancer risk while cooking, and to find out why up to 95 percent of homes could have this problem.
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Most people seriously underestimate indoor air pollutants.
While much has been made of outdoor air pollution, fewer people are concerned about the air quality in their own homes. This could leave you vulnerable to harmful substances, especially since Americans spend the vast majority of their time indoors. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology, survey respondents "reported spending an average of 87 percent of their time in enclosed buildings and about six percent of their time in enclosed vehicles."
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that within these enclosed spaces, high concentrations of pollutants can take a major toll. "Studies of human exposure to air pollutants indicate that indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times—and occasionally more than 100 times—higher than outdoor levels," they write.
Natural gas stoves can harbor toxic substances.
In fact, a 2020 report published by a joint coalition of four organizations—Rocky Mountain Institute, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Mothers Out Front, and Sierra Club—warns that natural gas stoves may be a leading health hazard in American homes.
"Across the United States, millions of homes and apartments rely on gas appliances for heating and cooking. Burning gas in buildings is not only a threat to climate action but also to human health, as these appliances are sources of indoor air pollution," their experts write. "Gas stoves, particularly when unvented, can be a primary source of indoor air pollution. What's more, a robust body of scientific research shows the pollutants released by gas stoves can have negative health effects, often exacerbating respiratory conditions like asthma."
Some of these are known carcinogens.
A new study published by the journal Environmental Science & Technology in June 2022 analyzed natural gas samples from 69 cooking stoves in Boston. The research team found that these samples contained at least 21 different dangerous air pollutants such as "benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and hexane."
Curtis Nordgaard, MD, MSc, a co-author of the study and an environmental health scientist for the PSE Healthy Energy research institute in Oakland, California, noted that 95 percent of the samples contained benzene. "Some of the others may have some suspected carcinogenic activity, but benzene is really the one of greatest concern," he told U.S. News & World Report. "We know it causes leukemia and it's also been associated with lymphoma," he added.
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Doing this while you cook can lower your cancer risk.
If you have a natural gas stove at home, it's important to take certain precautions to offset your increased cancer risk. In particular, you can increase ventilation in your kitchen by cooking with the windows open, circulating air with a fan, and running the range hood while using your stove. Nordgaard says you should also ensure that your range hood directs air outdoors, instead of recirculating it throughout your home.
Natural gas may find its way into your home in other ways, as well. "We know from other research that these pollutants can be found in gas that's coming up from a well," Nordgaard said. "So we suspect a lot of these compounds may actually be present from where the gas comes out of the ground all the way to the pipeline going into your home and your kitchen stove."
Having an HVAC professional inspect your home and stove for possible natural gas leaks can help ensure that you remain at minimal risk. Speak with your doctor if you believe you may have been exposed to a natural gas leak.