The Global Fool

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Cooking and Indoor Air Pollution

By Roberta Attanasio

Cooking releases some of the same pollutants usually found outdoors in smog. Therefore, without proper ventilation, people can be exposed — indoors — to pollution able to cause serious adverse health effects.

A study published in 2012 by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) found that, in the United States, poor indoor air quality — of which cooking is the major source — is responsible for adverse health effects as significant as those caused by all traffic accidents or infectious diseases. The researchers highlighted the hazards posed by specific indoor air pollutants — secondhand smoke, radon, formaldehyde, acrolein and PM2.5, or particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.

Gas Stove Cooking

Photo Credit: Poecus

Jennifer Logue, the lead author of the study, told the New York Times “When you live in a small building, you cook a lot and don’t use your range hood, which may not be very effective anyway, then you’re probably going to have a problem with pollutants from cooking.”

In a more recent study (2014) Logue and colleagues focused on California homes to understand the air pollution hazards caused by natural gas cooking. They found that in homes in which natural gas burners are used for cooking without venting range hoods, occupants are exposed to levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and formaldehyde (HCHO) higher than those deemed acceptable if found outdoors.

NO2, CO and HCHO cause respiratory problems as well as other disorders.

The researchers are now working to find solutions to these indoor pollution problems. These solutions include for example testing for the hazardous pollutants and developing science-based ventilation standards for residential buildings.

Below are Berkeley Lab’s tips for buying and using range hoods:

  • Turn on the hood every time you cook, and set the fan to the highest setting that the noise is tolerable.
  • Make sure it vents to the outdoors. If it doesn’t, the hood will simply recirculate air in the kitchen.
  • If your range hood does not extend over the front burners, cooking on the back burners could make the hood up to twice as effective at removing pollutants.
  • If buying a new hood, it should cover your front burners and have a setting that moves at least 200 cubic feet of air per minute.
  • If having a range hood is not possible, opening a window while cooking does help.
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Author: Roberta Attanasio

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5 Comments

  1. Practically everything we do as humans can be perceived as bad! And even further, finding means to which we feed ourselves to sustain life is now being ridiculed! Quite frankly there are indeed ways to bypass using ovens, stoves, and microwaves to eat simply because not all foods require cooking. That being said, there are fewer foods that do not require cooking than foods that do require cooking given the diet of the average American. Should we as humans consider cooking outside to maintain life? Or should we eliminate the vast majority of most people’s diets? This is a very tricky issue, and an extremely interesting perspective on how we chose to prepare our meals. Pollution is inevitable, so at what point to people pick and choose their environmental battles?

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    • I think you missed the point – the researchers clearly show in their study that cooking generates air pollution, so they’re telling you to make sure to have proper ventilation in your kitchen. The post even gives you tips about buying a range hood and tells you that if you can’t get one, you must at least open a window.

      This is a practical topic on a very real problem and the post offers practical ways to look at problems and mitigate them, your philosophical approach is very old school and does not help anyone!

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      • Well you and I can agree to disagree on the practicality of the “problem”. All of mankind has cooked as a means for survival for thousands of years. In addition to that most of them cooked in far worse conditions than our current ones. I’m not arguing whether or not people should check their ventilation. My point is that I consider the “problem” to not be such a big “problem” in the grand scheme of things.

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  2. We feed ourselves while we pollute ourselves! The problem with cooking and pollution is a worldwide one. In China, much of the pollution comes from cooking, especially when coal is used. Here, I don’t know what to think, although for sure pollution is in the kitchen. These studies clearly show that this is the case. May be not enough to contribute much to outdoor pollution, but logically dangerous when we’re inside our homes. I know I’m going to make sure right now that my range hood works well! I heard, though, that not just frying, but even toasting releases toxic chemicals. May be we should use the toaster under the range hood from now on and also consider frying only sparingly. My guess is that boiling is the less dangerous way of cooking.

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  3. When you cook you basically set things on fire, and it’s toxic. It’s especially bad for fats (oil, butter, and so on) but everything on fire is going to release something toxic. I’m just surprised they don’t take in consideration different types of cooking. Is boiling as bad as frying for example? If you can smell something bad it means something bad is in the air, and many times the bad smells are in your own kitchen, it’s just that we’re used to all of it, but that doesn’t make it less toxic.

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