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January 31, 2023
America Dissected
Cooking with Gas with Rebecca Leber

In This Episode

Who’d have thought that kitchen appliances were going to be the next stop in the culture wars? But that’s exactly what happened when rightwing talking heads tried to burn it all down a few weeks ago over government regulators coming for their … gas stoves. Abdul reviews the science behind the controversy. Then he sits down with Rebecca Leber, a climate change reporter at Vox, to talk about what happened and what it means for the future of public health.

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

[sponsor note] [music break]

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: A record number of Americans signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces last year. A federal court just blocked a California law aiming to prevent doctors from misinforming their patients about COVID 19 vaccines. The FDA requests more authority to regulate CBD. This is America Dissected. I’m your host, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. [music break] I want you to imagine something with me. You’re a busy parent. Between work and shuttling the kids to and from various activities and the rush to get it all done before bedtime, you decide to cook your family something nutritious to fortify their growing bodies and minds. You cut up some veggies, some lean meats, and you turn on the stove to start cooking. But alongside the vitamins and minerals, the fiber and protein you’re feeding your kids, you’re also giving them a hefty dose of nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and even radon. If you’ve got a gas stove and you’re not properly venting your kitchen, chances are you’re exposing yourself and your family to harmful chemicals, something you probably heard about for the first time last week on the Internet. Today, we’re digging into the science behind the risks of gas stoves. And we’ll speak with a journalist who’s been covering the gas stove discourse, before it was the gas stove discourse TM. So how did we get here? Why does everyone suddenly care about stoves? 

 

[clip of Tucker Carlson] Unless we’re not embarrassed to be made fun of by MSNBC, oh you’re obsessed with gas stoves, no you’re obsessed with gas stoves, buddy. You’re obsessed with controlling my life, and I’m not going to let you. Come and take it. How’s that? 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: America’s right wing controversy machine has been on fire. See what I did there. Over the thought of Joe Biden and his team of bureaucrats coming to take their gas stoves. I’ve literally never seen more passion over a kitchen appliance. Okay, maybe keurigs. Remember when Republicans canceled them? But stoves? Nah. They all kind of do the same thing. Well, unless you’re talking about those new induction stoves, which are pretty cool, they boil water in 2 minutes, but somehow won’t burn you when you touch the stove top. Magic. But gas stoves, really? But this controversy, it’s just something way more sinister in the culture. And that’s the war we seem to want to ignite over the dumbest shit. The only reason that right wing talking heads and politicians are pissed off is because someone from the government cited science to make a policy argument for reducing their use, which is, well, what you kind of want your government to do, you know, protect you from stuff that can hurt you without you even knowing about it. When Richard Trumka Junior, a commissioner at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, called gas stoves a quote, “hidden hazard” and said I quote, “Any option is on the table”, I doubt he thought he’d end up being the subject of multiple Fox News monologues because, well, he was doing his job. His quote was based on a study published last month in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that found that indoor gas stove usage was associated with childhood asthma and concluded that up to 13%, 13% more than one in ten of childhood asthma cases was attributable to them. In fact, this is just the latest in a line of studies that have demonstrated the health risks of gas stove use. Makes sense. [laugh] And this isn’t rocket science. Gas stoves burn methane, and most burning processes leave a series of chemicals in their wake. Methane burning gas stoves leave methane in the air. And when gas leaks from the stoves, they can expose households to direct benzene exposure. In 2013, which, by the way, is ten years ago now, a whole decade, a meta analysis combined the findings of 41 peer reviewed research articles and found that gas stoves were associated with high risk of asthma and of children currently having a wheeze, meaning worse asthma. Using science to make policy is the centerpiece of public health. Which is why I can’t help but connect this most recent outburst to a recurring theme over the past few years. The right wing attack on any and all COVID policies, which, whether it’s lockdowns or masks or vaccines. And this recent gas stoves episode suggest that the right wing anti-science and anti-public health maladies have penetrated beyond COVID, even into our kitchens. But where next? All of this has some serious implications for protecting the public’s health. The whole strain of American politics is animated by specifically and directly opposing using science to protect folks. Where do we go from here? The saddest part of all this is that we’re talking about children here. Children who suffer the consequences of our inaction. The enraging thing is the cynicism. You know, these folks know better. The biggest purveyors of vaccine misinformation, after all, are vaccinated themselves. You think any of these Fox News phonies would be willing to let their kids spend an hour in an unventilated room with a gas stove burning? Probably not. But how many kids are living in cramped apartments with gas stoves that burn every single day? Today, we’re going to cut deeper into the health implications of gas stoves. We’re going to talk more about the science behind Commissioner Trumka’s recommendations and what a gas stove free future could look like. Joining me is a guest who’s been thinking about gas stoves for a long time. Rebecca Leber is a climate change reporter at Vox, where she’s been writing about what happens when cynical talking heads turn basic public policy into political rhetoric for a long time, whether climate change, public health or the place where both of them meet, which today happens to be at the stovetop. Here’s my conversation with Rebecca Leber. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: All right. Ready to go? 

 

Rebecca Leber: Um. Yeah. Okay. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: All right. Can you introduce yourself for the tape? 

 

Rebecca Leber: Hi, I’m Rebecca Leber. I’m a senior reporter at Vox, and I cover climate change. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: All right, so did you ever think that you’d be writing about gas stoves? 

 

Rebecca Leber: [laugh] Uh I’ve been writing about it for a few years now, but, yeah, I can’t say when I started on this I’d think that one day I’d be really identified with gas stove reporting. But here we are. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Because you’re like the gas stoves person. And um I wanted to just step back for a second because I don’t I don’t know that everybody knows what we’re talking about when we talk about a gas stove. What is a gas stove? 

 

Rebecca Leber: Yeah. Um. So I think it’s a great place to start because a gas stove, we’re usually talking about that cooktop when you turn it on, you have the methane that’s coming out um also called natural gas, and that’s that blue flame that clicks on when you’re using the stove. But another thing we’re talking about here is um sometimes people who have gas stove also have a gas oven. I think that tends to be used interchangeably. Some people have both gas for their oven and stove. Other people might have an electric oven and a gas stove. So um just a heads up that we’ll be using this a little bit interchangeably, but happy to clarify. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So usually when we’re talking about a gas stove, it’s it’s the blue flame stove, right? It’s the classic blue flame stove with the with the wires that you put your pot on. And then you have the blue flame coming up over the the pot or the pan. And then and then there’s, there’s ovens that also work via the same flame. You just don’t see the flame inside. 

 

Rebecca Leber: Yeah, exactly. Um. So that blue flame is combusting fossil fuels right there– 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah. 

 

Rebecca Leber: –in your kitchen. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And that that really is the principal issue, isn’t it? It’s that you are burning a fossil fuel in your kitchen. And we sometimes assume that um that that these fuels burn clean, but oftentimes they burn all kinds of other things. And, you know, by definition, when you’re burning a carbon based fossil fuel, that that has its own consequences. But really, we’re talking about the sort of midterm issue. This issue isn’t just this goes up in the atmosphere and contributes to climate change. It’s that this goes up into your lungs and potentially makes you sick. 

 

Rebecca Leber: Yeah. So the very name natural gas kind of implies that this is some kind of clean fuel, that it’s far better than coal, for instance, or um some people still have wood burning stoves. And in some ways, natural gas is cleaner. If you’re comparing 1 to 1 [laugh] with coal, um at least as far as carbon pollution goes. But natural gas is primarily methane, which is a very powerful greenhouse gas that definitely is contributing to our climate crisis. But there’s also all these other pollutants that come along with it. When you’re burning that methane, you’re also producing nitrogen dioxide, which is known to harm the lungs, and it is linked to asthma. There’s lots of science that supports that. And researchers are actually finding lots of other concerning pollutants that come with that gas stove. So there are papers demonstrating formaldehyde, benzene, um carbon monoxide of course, and radon all are can be detectable with that gas stove. There’s lots of debate over what levels of concentrations we’re talking about that’s truly concerning. But the research we have the most information on is around that nitrogen dioxide, which has that clear link to health effects. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Can you talk about what some of those health effects are or the linkages that have been made in the literature? 

 

Rebecca Leber: Yeah. So I’ve interviewed lots of scientists and doctors in the space and they, they say that  [laugh] there’s a lot of confidence here that that nitrogen dioxide harms the lungs, that it causes all kinds of respiratory problems. And there is a strong link to asthma. And um children especially are vulnerable here because in part they’re just taking in more air compared to adult lungs. And that’s why when we’re talking about the gas stove, a lot of the focus here is on childhood asthma, because this is one of the most vulnerable populations. Respiratory illness is what we have the most information on when it comes to nitrogen dioxide, an area where there’s a bit more uncertainty. But there’s possible concern has to do with cardiovascular system and also um the brain. But basically, uh we know that respiratory problems do exist when you’re breathing in high levels of nitrogen dioxide and the stuff just isn’t good for you. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And, you know, the thing about it, right, is that you think about, you know, setting a pot to simmer uh for a while and you’re now, um in effect, burning a fossil fuel inside your own home. And oftentimes, you know, you think about kitchens. I remember when we lived in New York, you had these like small galley kitchens, which were pretty closed off. And you can imagine how quickly some of these these noxious chemicals can then diffuse into the air that a kid is breathing. And the thing about it is that, you know, we add um we add chemicals to natural gas so that we can smell it. But a lot of what is um burnt off, you don’t actually smell. And part of the challenge here, right, is that people assume that in order for something that they’re breathing in to hurt them, they have to be able to see, smell, and taste it. And that’s just not the case, um particularly if you’re talking about a consistent chronic exposure. Um. And so it’s you know, it’s it’s not surprising um that we’re coming to understand what the consequences of this are. And, you know, stepping back, we’ve known for a long time that one of the most important exposures that folks in low and middle income countries where they cook over, you know, a kerosene stove uh or cook over wood um are exposed to are the runoffs from these kinds of stoves. And I can think about my own grandmother back in Egypt cooking over this small Bunsen burner like kerosene stove. And she’d get kerosene, you know, a canister of kerosene, you’d have to buy it, it’d come every week. Um. And she worked in this tiny little kitchen. And I remember you could walk in the kitchen and the overwhelming smell was the food she was cooking. But there was always this sort of subtext smell which smelled like chemical. And, you know, at the time, nobody thought anything of it. But, you know, stepping back, putting on my epidemiologist hat you’re like, yeah, that can’t be good for you. Uh. It turns out whether you can smell it or you can’t, um smoit’s probably not good for you. 

 

Rebecca Leber: Yeah, that’s a great point that we don’t always sense these pollutants. I think what people probably think about when they’re you’re considering the smoky kitchen is particulate matter which can be produced even when you’re using electric cooking. Particulate matter is just a byproduct basically of cooking anything. And that’s why no matter what you’re using, it’s a good idea to ventilate that kitchen. But there’s a lot of other things that we don’t detect. I think what people might be most familiar with is carbon monoxide, which comes from the stove. And fortunately today there are a lot of people who have life saving detectors. But what’s interesting here is there’s there’s lots that isn’t detected. There’s actually can be lower levels of carbon monoxide that just doesn’t hit a threshold where most people’s um detectors really monitor that. Um. There’s also these other pollutants that we just don’t have sensors for in most homes. Uh. Just to give you an example, in my own apartment where I unfortunately have a gas stove, I did a little bit of an experiment where I just turned on the stove. I didn’t actually cook something, but I wanted to see if my air purifier actually sensed what was coming out of that stove. And it did not change its levels, there it it turns out that my air purifier and most aren’t detecting things like nitrogen dioxide. What it might be reacting to instead is that particulate matter. So yeah, there’s more coming out of there than we realize. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Hmm. Um. So how many people in the United States, like what proportion of people have a gas stove? 

 

Rebecca Leber: Yeah. Our latest numbers from surveys say it’s about 40 million Americans, which is about 38% of the population. So it’s not everyone. But depending on where you are in the country, you can have really high concentrations of gas. So some states where gas is most common is New York and California. I know it’s very popular in Massachusetts as well. And um then there are parts of the country like the southeast, like Florida, that are mostly electric cooking. So they have over 90% electric cooking rather than gas. So it can really depend based on where you live. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: We’ll be back with more with Rebecca Leber after this break. 

 

[AD BREAK] 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Why are we just having this conversation now? So like, what led to the we’ll just say, right wing uproar over gas stoves? Like what has led to gas stove discourse? 

 

Rebecca Leber: Yeah. To back up a little bit. I’m actually working on a story right now about looking at the research over decades. So it’s not new science that there are health risks associated with any gas combustion. This goes back decades where scientists have understood there’s some level of risk associated with any type of gas, including gas cooking. But I think this hasn’t really broken through to the public until very recently. And there’s a few reasons why this finally broke through on a national stage. So based on this piling research we’ve had, especially in the last few years, looking at these health risks from the stove and also looking at the climate risks from um just methane in general, more agencies have been looking at this. So lots of states are considering that science. And that kind of wave prompted the Consumer Product Safety Commission to say, we’re going to look at the science here and consider what we should be doing around the gas stove and if this warrants regulation. So a commissioner for the agency, Richard Trumka Junior, gave a interview to the outlet, Bloomberg. And in that interview, he said something along the lines of any option is on the table, including a ban. That line is what prompted this conservative outrage. And we instantly saw conservative politicians equate this with guns and this kind of imagery around the NRA. Like you can pry this out of my cold, dead hands um and warning that Biden was going to come into people’s homes and rip out that gas stove. That was a complete overreaction. In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission quickly walked back those comments. They have said no ban is on the table. The Biden administration has also made that very clear. That doesn’t mean this conversation’s over. Agencies are still looking at this issue. And I think there’s a lot of debate, especially at the state level, of what can be done. But um that instantly sparked this culture war. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: [laugh] I mean, I’m just trying to imagine Joe Biden specifically, like riding in on his Corvette in his aviators with like an ice cream cone in his hands, coming for your gas stove. Like, he doesn’t strike me as the kind of man who can single handedly uh carry a gas stove out of a home. But I could be wrong. Um. And on top of that, it’s like an awfully weird thing to get excited about. Like, I understand um in some respects, people who, because of a ecosystem that constantly feeds you things that are meant to scare you, feeling like you need a firearm to protect yourself. Like, I think that’s kind of crazy. Um. And I believe that the the under regulation of firearms as folks who listen know, uh is a big reason why we have um so much both murder and suicide at the end of a gun. But I can I can imagine why folks would get um would get up in arms to, you know, use a badly placed pun, over a over protecting their their guns. Um. But a stove? Like part of me is just like eh like, you know, there are other kinds of stoves and [laugh] I don’t I don’t understand why the passion about about a particular kind of stove. What does this tell you about the real angst or anxiety that’s underneath this? Like what what do you think is driving this? 

 

Rebecca Leber: Yeah, I think there’s a lot more happening here than the stove itself. There’s, of course, this backlash to any kind of regulation from the government. But I’d like to argue there’s also something else going on here, and that’s this ongoing battle over what we do about fossil fuels and climate change. The core of this fight has actually been about electrifying our buildings, where climate activists, especially in cities starting in California, have advocated for policies where cities say no gas in new construction, we’re going to transition to electricity only. The gas industry has responded really aggressively to that effort because this threatens their future profits. They need those customers to make money [laugh] for the foreseeable future. Um. We know that the Republican Party has a very uh strong allyship with the fossil fuel industry and that the gas industry itself is afraid of seeing these climate efforts take off. So I think some of the reaction gets a little bit deeper than just a instinctive culture freak out here and gets at that allyship that Republicans are, especially Republican political leaders, are trying to defend the gas industry. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: There’s a couple of pieces I want to dig into here. Um. The first is is on, you know, the way that some some of this outrage uh can often be astroturfed. Right. And for folks who don’t know what that means, it means very large interests, um in effect, laundering their interests through what looks like organic outrage over something, but really is a concerted PR effort. Is there any evidence that there’s been some astroturfing on the part of industry around this particular conversation? 

 

Rebecca Leber: Definitely. I’ve reported on a lot of these efforts. To give a couple examples. Um. I would look at California, which has been ahead of the curve on trying to electrify its buildings um and inching towards possible regulation around gas appliances for health reasons. And the gas industry there, gas utilities being really huge in California, has fought back very aggressively. So in a story I reported for Mother Jones a couple of years ago, I looked at some of those efforts. And one example was the um a PR group that was hired by the gas industry had posed as concerned neighbors on next door posting on that social media platform where you’re only supposed to post if you actually live in that neighborhood, how council, how the area council was considering banning gas stoves and trying to generate some opposition from community members. It turns out that was a hired PR person posing as a concerned community member. That’s just one example. Other ways that we’ve seen this kind of astroturf from the industry include uh there’s been these social media campaigns where the gas industry has hired um not super famous, but kind of mid-level social media influencers to pose with gas stoves and talk about how great their quote, “natural gas stove” is. [laughter] Um. You can actually find some of these today still, if you search on the hashtag Cooking with Gas on Instagram. This was a paid campaign and some of these images are just kind of funny to see. Um. [laughing] So there’s different levels of this fight. There has also been examples of gas industry lawyers and reps showing up to community hearings to fight any kind of local ban. Um. There’s lots of examples, not just in California, Oregon’s seeing this now, New York has seen some backlash. And I think we’re just at this this turning point here where we’re seeing this fight nationalize. So I think there’s more of this coming. This is just what we’ve seen at the state level. And who knows what the Consumer Product Safety Commission has in store now. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: You know, a lot of these astroturfed campaigns only really work if there is a community of people primed to listen to the central message. Right. And it follows to me that one of the other subtexts here, beyond the interests of the fossil fuel industry to protect their profits, is also an ongoing uh pushback on the very notion of regulation in favor of public health. And a lot of what you’re hearing, a lot of the conversation, a lot of the tone of the tenor strikes me as very, very aligned with what we heard about masks and lockdowns and COVID vaccines. How much do you think the general ethos of um those, you know, anti-vax or slash anti, you know, COVID interruption, talking heads, um how much do you think that that’s bleeding into this conversation here and is has sort of picked up in the same vein? 

 

Rebecca Leber: Yeah, I think it’s really hard to distinguish actually, take Governor DeSantis in Florida. I think he just embodies all of this because he has been on the leading front of fighting any kind of mask mandates and um government policies to encourage vaccination. He uh also very quickly picked up the gas stove battle when this broke out a few weeks ago. He um he said something um to the effect of I’ll protect the gas stove, like, how dare you Biden administration. I’m of course, paraphrasing here, but I like to point out that when you look at Florida specifically, over 92% of the population has electric cooking and just 8% gas. So I’m not really sure what he’s talking about when he says this is him fighting for Florida’s interests. I think specifically looking at DeSantis’s motives, he is, of course, preparing to run for president in the next next election cycle. And he has been using or building this kind of talking point about government encroachment on liberties. And um this has come through in other ways where he has fought back against climate action in um this whole other very complicated battle over ESG investing in the financial world. And he I do see conservatives trying to connect this narrative that um under this idea that the government should not be involved in our everyday decisions in our homes. This is something like you can say, get out of the home. You have no place here. But when you look at the flip side, what doctors have been trying to make clear for a long time now is the public also deserves to know what the risks are and to know the dangers of the product that they may be buying or they uh may have no choice to even use if they rent. So a lot of this is is also about science communication and awareness. And I think we see this kind of silencing of of the truth here and silencing of um science in favor of misinformation. And yeah, it’s murky, but I agree that all of this is connected. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: You know, you talked about DeSantis and Florida. I lived in Florida for a while when I was a little kid, and um I lived there when Hurricane Andrew, uh one of the first big mega hurricanes, swept through. And I was probably I was eight at the time. Um. And the funny thing about it is I remember the [?] I was just old enough uh as my parents were trying to rebuild our house and they were thinking about getting a gas stove. Um. This was the early nineties, and I remember very specifically um them, the salespeople saying, you know, gas stoves don’t work very well in South Miami because it’s so humid and the gas stoves are a lot better when it’s not so humid outside, it just interferes with the lighting function of the of the stove. Um. And so it’s funny to to watch somebody like DeSantis just completely uh buy this sort of national script um about standing up for gas stoves in a state where gas stoves don’t even work very well. Um. The other you know part of this uh that that, you know, we can’t ignore is the the conversation about bans, which is really interesting, right? Um. The the conversation that sparked all of this, um Richard Trumka Jr’s quote to Bloomberg was that um he said the word ban. Now, you could imagine right, a restatement of what public policy actually is, which is we’re going to subsidize the purchase of electric stoves because the government already does that in the form of the Inflation Reduction Act. Can you talk a little bit about that and about um the the what that sort of tells us about the kind of language that tends to inflame these conversations? 

 

Rebecca Leber: Yeah, I do think the language around a ban really aggravated the reaction. And just looking at the possibilities here, a ban, first of all, is off the table now. But it was never likely to begin with. There are other regulatory measures that even an agency like the Consumer Product Safety Commission can do here, and that includes even issuing warnings when people buy a gas appliance or requiring that people also get something like a range hood with that gas stove to improve ventilation. Um. There’s plenty of other things that can be done here that isn’t a outright ban. When it comes to incentives. Yeah, I this is a huge area when you look at what the Biden administration actually wants to do here, they want to push voluntary incentives for people who would like to electrify their home rather than force them to. So the Inflation Reduction Act has various incentives. Um. Basically, there’s two buckets. There’s tax credits and rebates that will go to consumers to help electrify their home. Some of these can apply to buying something like an induction stove, but also there’s other kinds of electrical work you might have to do if you’re trying to upgrade, like having a modern circuit breaker or electrical panel, um that can be costly too. So just the Inflation Reduction Act actually has tax credits that lower that cost of doing any kind of work in your home. There’s also going to be rebates available later this year that lower the upfront costs of these appliances. A lot of this is going to target lower to middle income consumers. So you kind of have to read into the fine print to see if you still qualify. But we’re going to start seeing states rolling out these rebates where something like induction technology is going to get a lot cheaper because the government effectively is helping boost this. And that’s a big idea here around encouraging electrification of homes rather than forcing people into the situation that you bring down the cost and then the market will follow. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, you know, you know, what’s funny is that I think for the first time, because of the right wing backlash, you have a lot of people who are paying attention to the potential health consequences of their gas stove and thinking about thinking about um fixing that. Right. I uh have two small children and um we have a gas stove and I have um never spent more time researching uh an appliance than I have thinking about an induction oven. And they’re pretty cool. Like they can boil water in 2 minutes and you turn your entire stove into a cooking surface. And, um you know, I would not have been thinking as much about this if it wasn’t top of mind because of the right wing backlash in support of an appliance. So I want to ask you, do you think that this might have actually backfired, that there are going to be more people who are looking at making the change because their newly hearing about this, because of all the uproar? 

 

Rebecca Leber: I think it’s so early to say exactly how this is going to play out. I do think a lot of people have become aware just in recent weeks that there is any problem associated with the gas stove. Honestly, I’ve heard as feedback to my reporting from some people who didn’t even connect that they were burning a fossil fuel when they used the stove. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Right. 

 

Rebecca Leber: So I just think some things here are clicking for people that didn’t and I looking at polling but also believe that most people, most Americans, actually, they accept the climate science. They do want to do something about it. So I think more education on what is actually contributing here does go a long way in affecting consumer decisions, but also community decisions and advocating for electrification in your hometown. There is also this other way everything can play out. So it’s just hard to predict where the right wing, by embracing the gas stove also runs to purchase it. And that’s also there’s a possibility there that some now see the gas stove, like the Second Amendment where they have to run out before it’s banned. The one reason I I have a bit of hope that that’s not going to be what happens here is we’re talking about something that requires actual infrastructure to support. To have a gas stove, you need a gas pipeline into your home and that also requires lots of government investment. Um. So a lot of this is going to depend on what cities and states end up investing in for the next 5 to 10 years. And if they are choosing this direction of doubling down on gas as opposed to cheaper clean energy. Um. And that’s kind of where the story isn’t written yet. I don’t know what will happen here, but um the hopeful piece of this is gas, as far as cooking goes, is much more common in a lot of blue states. And those are the states already looking at this transition. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: You know, here’s where the rubber hits the road. Some some of these folks just just to own the libs are going to go buy a gas stove. I’m almost certain that there are folks who are already doing this. But I would challenge any of them to like huff what’s being burnt out of the stove. I don’t think any of them would do it. And the fact is, is that that itself is an admission of their at least conventional recognition that burning stuff and breathing what you burn is probably not a great idea. And so it’s you know, it’s it’s it’s funny because it’s like you want to reject the science so much and yet at some point, at some point, you know, it’s probably true. Right. And so I you know, I, I doubt any of these folks listen to this podcast. But, you know, I just it’s one of those moment you’re like, okay, cool, turn it on. And then just sit there and breathe it and and don’t turn on the the the the um, the hood. Just breathe it. Would you do that or would you ask your kid to do that? And I think for most of them they’d be like, absolutely not and you’re like, okay, exactly. Then you’re admitting the the fundamental point. This has just become a, a substrate of the cultural war for you, um which just goes to show how absurd I feel like the Internet has made our conversation about public health, which is like people would would do things that they know in their heart to be probably incorrect simply because it’s an opposition to some sense of the other tribe. Right. And it’s a sad comment on where we’ve gotten and I hate to say it like, you know, folks on quote, “our side”, um I think have have taken the incentives of the culture war um to their logical ends as well. Right. Which is to say, you know, this has this has gone past trying to do things to benefit the well-being of folks, even if they disagree with you. Right. And so that’s the the hard part to see. Right. Is is that in the end, we want to get back to or hopefully move forward to a place where people are using the best tool we have available to understand the physical world around us, which is science, to make good decisions for themselves, for their families, for their communities, and for the earth. And I really hope that we all kind of keep our keep our mind there. Um. For those of us who want to protect ourselves from the consequences of having a gas stove in our apartment or our home. What are some of the things we can do to limit its consequences? 

 

Rebecca Leber: Yeah, it’s a great question. I will say I have a gas stove and oven that I’m not super happy with. So this is something I think about a lot. Um. Basically, the only thing we can do to help reduce that exposure to nitrogen dioxide is by boosting ventilation in your space. So the best thing is if you have a range hood, this is a specific type that is ducted and then vents that air outside. That if you have it. Use it. Turn it on. Not everyone uses it. And that is probably the best thing in terms of making sure that you are not just inhaling this high concentration of these pollutants. Um. The problem is a lot of people don’t have this technology or maybe it’s very old and inefficient. Um. I actually don’t have any fan at all in my apartment. And in that case, if you can open a window, door, if you um have a fan at all, even if it circulates that polluted air indoors, that’s not ideal. But you can do anything to improve that airflow, it can help somewhat. Um. Another recommendation I’ve heard from doctors is if someone in your home is vulnerable to these pollutants, let’s say they already have asthma or they’re a small child just trying to keep them out of that space while cooking can help. Um. There are definitely things we can do to reduce those risks and improving ventilation. There is a lot of uncertainty here though, in terms of how much something like opening a window really does or if it reduces those concentrations right away. Um. And that’s an area that scientists are still working out. What are the best interventions we can take that actually help people with these exposures? Um. So that’s something that I um am following in my reporting. I think it’s a really interesting area. It’s it’s kind of where that science research and people’s lives can really intersect of how we help people. Um. Obviously, a thing to do, if you are able to, is also look at electrification options. [laugh] If you don’t have to deal with this at all and get that gas out of your home. That’s probably the best thing to do here. Um. I’ll add just one more kind of renter friendly option here, because a lot of people, when they have gas, they’re kind of stuck with it. They don’t really have a choice in the matter. Um. A lot of people have been raving about these plug in induction stovetops. So instead of having a huge renovation of your kitchen, you can actually buy, it’s kind of like this hot plate. And they come in different sizes where you could just set it over your stove and they’re not even that expensive, and then you just plug it in your outlet and there you have an electric stove um even at the time that you’re stuck with gas. So um I always like to mention that because I do think there’s some solutions here at different income levels and different kind of preparedness of of whether you can actually do this full construction on your place. Um. So, yeah, I I do like to leave people with a little bit of hope and [laugh] realizing that they have some options to at least um improve their indoor air quality. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Well Rebecca, we really appreciate uh your reporting and you joining us to um to tell us a bit about both gas stoves and their harms and then also uh the gas stove discourse. Uh. Our guest today was Rebecca Leber. She is a uh climate change reporter at Vox. Rebecca, thank you so much. 

 

Rebecca Leber: Thanks for covering this. [music break]

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: As usual. Here’s what I’m watching right now. A record 16.3 million Americans signed up for individual coverage through the marketplaces established through the Affordable Care Act in 2022. That’s a 13% increase over the year before, which up until that point had been the high watermark. This follows the Inflation Reduction Act last year, which extended subsidies intended to reduce health care costs for lower and middle income folks through the pandemic. The pickups were particularly pronounced in Texas, Florida, and Georgia. What do those states have in common? Well, alongside being states with some of the most annoying governors in the country, they’re also states where those governors have continued to block Medicaid expansion, meaning there are more people who absolutely rely on the ACA marketplaces to get care. This, of course, is good news. But y’all, I can’t help but be reminded, though, that this is the only high income country in the entire world where people still aren’t guaranteed a basic minimum level of health care. Medicare for all anyone? A George W. Bush appointed federal district court judge blocked a California law intending to reduce myths and disinformation about COVID and its vaccines and treatments. Here’s what the law did. It expanded the state Medical Board’s authority to extend spreading COVID disinformation as, quote, “unprofessional conduct by physicians” with the goal of reducing the spread of this harmful information. The judge ruled, though, that the law violated the 14th Amendment’s due process clause and called it, quote, “unconstitutionally vague”. On the one hand, I agree with the thrust of the law of course, it’s critical to address the spread of mis and disinformation full stop. I just wonder whether or not this is really the most effective way to do it. After all, do we really think that doctors are the ones spreading the bulk of mis and disinformation? No doubt there are some rotten apples in the bunch. But when they do spread disinformation, where do you think they hear about it? This is California, after all. You know where Twitter, Google, and Meta are headquartered. And I would have loved to see California force these exact platforms to take more accountability for the material shared on their platforms. That would do way more to reduce the spread of this disinformation than policing doctors. But of course they didn’t. And that probably has a lot to do with the power of these corporations to lobby state government. Finally, four years ago, Congress legalized hemp, the source of cannabidiol, better known as CBD. It unleashed a whole new market of gummies and lotions and potions and sprays. At issue here is the fantastical claims the product marketers have made for their compound. That it can ease menstrual cramps, prevent diabetes, improve post-workout recovery, solve chronic pain or headaches, etc. And the issue is that there’s just not the evidence to back these claims up. In fact, there’s very little evidence at all. But what evidence we are seeing has some worrying trends, that extended chronic CBD use may lead to liver toxicity or male reproductive dysfunction. Yeah, you heard that one right. Right now, the FDA can take action against companies that are making specific, unfounded health claims for their products. But according to a statement from Dr. Janet Woodcock, the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner, the agency simply lacks the necessary regulatory tools to protect consumers from safety concerns or fantastical advertising. CBD is a $6 billion dollar business and don’t get me wrong. I don’t have anything against it. I just want there to be some evidence when people tell you it’s going to do this or that thing. But you can imagine what the growers, producers and marketers think. Watch this space and easy on the CBD for now. That’s it for today on your way out. Don’t forget to rate and review. It does go a long way. Also, if you love the show and want to rep us, I hope you’ll drop by the Crooked store for some America Dissected merch. [music break] America Dissected is a product of Crooked Media. Our producer is Austin Fisher. Our associate producers are Tara Terpstra and Emma Illic-Frank, Vasilis Fotopoulos mixes and masters the show. Production support from Ari Schwartz and Ines Maza. Our theme song is by Taka Yasuzawa and Alex Sugiura. Our executive producers are Leo Duran, Sarah Geismer, Sandy Girard, Michael Martinez and me, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, your host. Thanks for listening. [music break] This show is for general information and entertainment purposes only. It’s not intended to provide specific health care or medical advice and should not be construed as providing health care or medical advice. Please consult your physician with any questions related to your own health. The views expressed in this podcast reflect those of the host and his guests and do not necessarily represent the view and opinion of Wayne County, Michigan, or its Department of Health, Human and Veterans Services.