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.
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.
- 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.