Cooking Fumes Are Bad For Your Health


Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab have taken an interest in improving the nation's air quality — it's indoor air quality. More specifically, researchers are studying the quality of the air in your kitchen.

That's because a gas stove produces some of the same pollutants responsible for the smog outdoors. In tests of Southern California residential kitchens in which residents cook at least once a week, researchers found the pollutant nitrogen dioxide at levels higher than the outdoor health limit in more than half the homes tested. As Jennifer Logue of Lawrence Berkeley, who is conducting the research, explained to NPR:

If you exceeded the standards outdoors, it would be a really big deal," she says. "But if you exceed them in your house, nobody's paying attention."

While electric ranges do not produce nitrogen dioxide, all ranges, gas and electric, generate cooking grease and fine particulate pollution. Prolonged exposure to unsafe levels of these pollutants can lead to heart and respiratory problems.

Proper Ventilation

The solution, according to Logue, is a range hood that vents outside. Unfortunately many range hoods vent back into the kitchen, and some of those that do vent outside are only 15% efficient due to the shape of the hood or the strength of the fan.

Engineers at Lawrence Berkeley are working on more efficient hood and fan designs, but building codes will have to be updated with kitchen range hood ventilation requirements (such as those required for furnaces and water heaters) before the new designs start appearing in kitchens. That's a complex process involving many government agencies. It could be some time before new regulations and new, more effective range hoods and ventilation systems become widely available.

Steps to Take Now

In the meanwhile, Logue had a few suggestions about how to help reduce the pollution levels in our kitchens:

Cooking Tips

  • Always turn your fan on

  • Cook on the back burners

  • Use highest fan setting

  • Clean grease traps periodically

  • If you don't have a hood, open windows

Tips for Buying a New Range Hood

  • Look for one that covers the entire stovetop

  • It should move 200 cubic feet of air per minute, certified by the Home Ventilating Institute

  • Choose a noise rating of 3 sones or less for a quieter fan

  • Choose a hood shape with a hollow space underneath for collecting fumes

What's the air like in your kitchen?

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